November 19, 2013

Make STEM Education a Priority

Posted by Meg Gilley

I feel so lucky to be working at AGU as an intern in the Science department, but my geoscience career has not been without challenges and struggle. Through my inherent passion for Earth science and the confidence that a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) degree could provide job security, I fought to attain a B.S. from the Department of Geosciences at Penn State University.

Observing a scenic overview before completing a mapping project around San Vittore, Italy as part of the Penn State Geosciences Field Camp to Italy, May-June 2011

Anne observing a scenic overview before completing a mapping project around San Vittore, Italy as part of the Penn State Geosciences Field Camp to Italy, May-June 2011

If not for the encouragement from my fellow students and faculty at Penn State, my talent wouldn’t have been cultivated. I have developed an unyielding passion for learning and promoting communication of the Earth sciences and a fervent desire to receive a graduate degree in the geosciences, because STEM education was such a priority for me and those around me.

As part of my internship at AGU, I recently attended a STEM salon, sponsored by the Bayer Corporation, entitled The U.S. STEM Workforce Shortage: Myth or Reality?, where speakers explained that United States industry and manufacturers need students trained in STEM disciplines.  Skills learned from a STEM-focused education fundamentally fulfill many different job requirements, even some of the industry jobs that may not be typically associated with a student’s specific discipline.

One of the most powerful ideas of the meeting was generated by Dr. Kelly Mack (Executive Director, Project Kaleidoscope, American Association of Colleges and Universities), who cautioned that educators must motivate students’ interest in STEM by helping them to cultivate the talent they can provide to STEM disciplines. Cultivating more students in STEM can make our country more competitive and fuel innovation.

According to Research Universities and the Future of America, a report by the National Research Council, federal funding for university research has declined while other leading countries have increased funding for research and development.  A lapse in funding has constrained academic programs and research projects, affecting motivation of students to pursue careers that could increase incomes, national security and sustainability, and competiveness within the global market. Universities and educators are limited by the funding that they do not receive. Opportunities for students are diminished by the lack of grants available for funding research and the resulting weak job market.

A lack of funding creates an ominous future for graduate students and potential STEM graduate students like me.  The government shutdown left many Ph.D. candidates without the ability to collect critical data. Like many young scientists, I am terrified by the job market and the idea of entering into a graduate program with insecure or limited funding.

Policy makers care about making our country competitive, and encouraging more students to study STEM subjects can achieve that goal. So how can policy makers motivate the next generation of Earth scientists? Universities, industry, and policy makers must improve communication to provide accurate and optimistic encouragement for students to pursue STEM careers.  Our government needs to keep supporting basic science research and STEM education, which allows our nation to conduct research and train the next generation of Earth scientists. This is of utmost importance to the nation’s energy independence, sustainability, and climate change research, just to name a few. Policy makers constantly discuss sustaining the nation and stimulating the economy. Then why not focus on the most logical and deliverable answer—fostering and empowering the next generation of scientists.


– Anne Tamalavage, AGU Education and Public Outreach Intern