STEM education is increasingly important


While much of the nation continues to struggle under a cloud of slow economic recovery and high unemployment, workers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, are enjoying some sunny days – and can expect even more ahead.

According to Change the Equation, a STEM education support organization, there is only one unemployed STEM worker in the United States for every two unfilled STEM jobs, compared to 3.6 unemployed workers for every non-STEM job. By 2018, STEM occupations will account for about 8.6 million jobs in the U.S. economy, up from 7.3 million in 2008, according to the Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) at Georgetown University.

CEW also predicts that through 2018, STEM jobs will grow by 17 percent, compared to less than 10 percent for non-STEM fields. Those jobs will be led by openings in math and computer fields, followed by engineering and physical and life sciences.

Having the right skills for STEM jobs is increasingly important to workers in Wichita. A recent study by the Brookings Institute ranked Wichita 22nd among the 100 largest metropolitan areas for jobs that require STEM knowledge. According to the study, 21.3 percent of all Wichita-area jobs were STEM-related.

Newman University offers STEM majors in math, IT, biology, biochemistry and chemistry. The largest single block of STEM students further their education in the medical professions, said David Shubert, professor of chemistry and dean of the College of Undergraduate Studies, Division of Science and Mathematics at Newman.

Shubert added that Newman’s STEM programs are rigorous and have high standards, and that successful STEM graduates are well prepared to take on the next challenge, including getting into ultra-competitive medical and professional schools. Over the past 10 years, 96 percent of Newman pre-med graduates who applied to med school were accepted. The 2012 graduating class included eight STEM students accepted into medical schools, three to dentistry schools, two to optometry schools, two to pharmacy schools, and five who went to other graduate schools.

Recently, the demand for the talents of STEM graduates has increased even outside the traditional occupations of health care, IT and other professional services into fields such as utilities and transportation, according to the CEW. Graduates with STEM competencies are also earning significantly more than those without them.

Shubert noted that the growing opportunities for STEM graduates is recognized by Newman students, as shown by rising enrollment in those fields. In fall 2008, 119 Newman students were STEM majors. By fall 2012, that figure increased to 240, an 18 percent average annual growth. The great majority, 173 of the 240, were in biology, followed by chemistry, biochemistry and math.

– David Dinell

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