By Katherine Baker, Emily Faulconer, Oliver Grundmann, Sarah Haines, Tyra Hall-Pogar, Lisa Kenyon, Susan Meabh Kelly, Peter Lindeman, Brian Schmaefsky, Candace Timpte, and David Wojnowski
The extraordinary work to develop feasible vaccines, effective medical treatments, and accurate epidemiological studies to alleviate the SARS-CoV2 pandemic would not have been possible without collaboration between academia, industry, government laboratories, and regulatory agencies that speak the common language researchers around the world know—science! SARS-CoV2 is the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Yet our society at large is more divided than ever over scientific facts, foundational science knowledge, and the acceptance of scientific applications in everyday life. The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified a discrepancy that has alarmed many in STEM education for years: a lack of current and future scientists, of diversity, of broad representation, of communication of complex scientific topics with the public, of critical-thinking skills, and of readily accessible (sometimes referred to as open) educational resources to the public and educators. As an essential step toward closing these gaps, an emphasis on STEM education in higher education on all levels from general studies for non-STEM majors to dedicated STEM degrees should be implemented. Undergraduate students enrolled in STEM courses presented with better critical-thinking skills when compared to peers who did not take such courses (Dou & Gibbs, 2013; Kennedy & Odell, 2014). STEM undergraduate courses furthermore play a critical role in increasing diversity, retention, and recruitment for graduate STEM programs (Atkinson & Mayo, 2010; Bargagliotti et al., 2018).
A continued shortage of graduates in STEM fields and STEM-related areas combined with marginal increases to public institutions of higher education for research and development funding to support such majors in recent years paints a dire picture for the future of the U.S. workforce (Li, 2020). These issues affect critical industries that shape the future of international markets and trade collaborations, manufacturing, and innovation.
STEM education should not be exclusive to those pursuing a degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, but rather inclusive to all given the importance and omnipresence of STEM in our daily activities, actions, and decisions. Just as everyone should know the basics of financial management to make sound financial decisions and civics to understand the political and governmental process in our society, we should all have a sound foundation and understanding in STEM to be informed citizens and communicate eloquently on scientific matters. As educators in STEM pedagogy and STEM content areas, we passionately want all students to be informed citizens who critically evaluate what is presented to them and rely on facts rather than misinformation and unfounded claims that are not based on scientific precedence or supported by well-researched and established principles. An investment in STEM education today—one that highlights practical use and emerging developments—will pay a dividend for future generations to come.
As a society, we rely on science and technology for most of today’s comforts and necessities. Life-saving and life-prolonging medicines, communication technologies, modes of transportation, energy-efficient building materials, or early severe weather warning systems are just a few examples of STEM inventions with a global impact. More than ever, the future depends on STEM disciplines to support health, economic advancement, and equality for diverse populations.
Katherine Baker is vice president-curriculum director at Redd Technology in Munhall, Pennsylvania. Emily Faulconer is an assistant professor in the Department of STEM Education at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. Oliver Grundmann (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a clinical associate professor in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida. Sarah Haines is a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Towson University in Towson, Maryland. Tyra Hall-Pogar is a faculty member in the School of General Education at Purdue University Global in Chicago, Illinois. Lisa Kenyon is a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio. Susan Meabh Kelly is a PhD graduate student in the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Connecticut. Peter Lindeman is Director of Journals at the National Science Teaching Association in Arlington, Virginia. Brian Schmaefsky is a professor of biology at Lone Star College–Kingwood in Kingwood, Texas. Candace Timpte is a professor of biology at Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville, Georgia. David Wojnowski is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Early Childhood and Elementary Education at Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia, and editor of the Journal of College Science Teaching.
Atkinson, R. D., & Mayo, M. J. (2010). Refueling the U.S. innovation economy: Fresh approaches to STEM education. https://itif.org/publications/2010/12/07/refueling-us-innovation-economy-fresh-approaches-stem-education
Bargagliotti, A., Herreiner, D., & Phillips, J. A. (2018). Breaking boundaries: pressing issues in equity, computing, and problem-solving in STEM undergraduate education. Journal of Research in STEM Education, 4(1), 2–12.
Dou, R., & Gibbs, K. (2013). Engaging all students in the pursuit of STEM careers. School Science Review, 95(351), 106–112.
Kennedy, T., & Odell, M. (2014). Engaging students in STEM education. Science Education International, 25(3), 246–258.
Li, A. Y. (2020). Performance funding policy impacts on STEM degree attainment. Educational Policy, 34(2), 312–349.