STEM and the Big Picture: Preparing the Next Generation of Innovators

by Joseph Miller, Esq.

“Do what you love and success will follow.”  That is standard advice in any number of career advice books.  But too few students are inspired to love science, technology, engineering and math (“STEM”), and the students most likely to major in non-STEM fields, are the students who are least able to afford to.  By the same token, we must also ensure the next generation of Americans are able to excel in both STEM and non-STEM fields.

The value of STEM education is clear. Glassdoor, a site that crowdsources data on different companies’ working conditions, reports that the average starting salary for software engineers in Silicon Valley is $98,000.  For Google, the starting rate for software engineers can be upwards of $151,000.  These facts underscore the need to improve STEM education in low-income school districts, which are disproportionately comprised of African-Americans and Hispanics.

But many African-Americans and Hispanics are choosing not to go to college at all or, if they do decide to attend college, choose not to major in STEM fields.  A recent Department of Commerce report shows that, in 2009, just 22 percent of non-Hispanic blacks and 14 percent of Hispanics held bachelor’s degrees, compared to 54 percent of Asians and 35 percent of non-Hispanic whites.  Of these, just 17 percent of black, non-Hispanic and 21 percent of Hispanic college graduates majored in STEM disciplines, compared to 22 percent of white, non-Hispanic graduates and 43 percent of Asian, non-Hispanic graduates.

In his book “In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives,” Steven Levy describes a corporate culture that celebrates quantitative geniuses, while at the same time pushes employees to be creative and inventive.  Levy depicts Google co-founder Sergey Brin as quantitatively brilliant, but as being more interested in taking courses in swimming and gymnastics than in earning a Ph.D. in computer science.  Levy also describes Marissa Mayer, Google’s Vice President of Location and Local Services, who, before entering Stanford University, in addition to being a computer whiz, also excelled at dance.  In his book “A Whole New Mind,” Daniel Pink argues that “[w]e are moving from an economy and a society built on the logical, linear, computerlike capabilities of the Information Age to an economy and a society built on the inventive, empathic, big-picture capabilities of what’s rising in its place, the Conceptual Age.”

But many of the nation’s public schools are not preparing students for innovative settings like Stanford and Google’s. To satisfy No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act testing benchmarks, many public schools have begun implementing policies that downplay pedagogy and simply “teach to the test.”  These policies have been combined with drastic cuts to arts education.

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) reported earlier this year that it is minority students who have been hit hardest by cuts to arts education.   The NEA report revealed that only 26 percent of African-Americans between 18 and 24 reported receiving any arts education during childhood.  This reflects an extremely sharp decline from 51 percent seen in 1982.  For Hispanics, the percentage of respondents who received any arts education during childhood plummeted from 47 percent in 1982 to 28 percent in 2008.  On the other hand, the number of whites reporting that they received arts education dropped only slightly from 59.2 percent in 1982 to 57.9 percent in 2008.

To prepare African-American and Hispanic students for the jobs of the future, we must ensure that all students have the ability to develop well-rounded backgrounds.

Joseph Miller, Esq. is Deputy Director and Senior Policy Director of the Media and Technology Institute of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, DC.  More information on Joseph Miller and his work can be found at the Joint Center website.

One thought on “STEM and the Big Picture: Preparing the Next Generation of Innovators

  1. Pingback: Can Community Colleges Change the Way We Think About Talent? | Political News and Opinion from a Multicultural Point of View

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