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STEM solutions to unemployment

A piece of the pie for everyone!
A piece of the pie for everyone!
Photo by Eric Thayer

Most people think of Einstein and DIfficult Subject MAtter Learning (what I will call DISMAL) when they hear the four letter word: STEM. But when you take it apart, STEM is practically every job you can think of, including jobs that support the work of Einstein and everyone involved in so-called DISMAL activities. For example, at a recent national conference in D.C. on STEM (which stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), we were told (in a standing room only session) by people in the oil and petroleum business that even if you aren't a geologist, you can earn a pretty hefty income. Administrative assistants, who may have never seen a physics book or the inside of a mining cave, make $70k+! People who drive the trucks and do the real heavy lifting associated with DISMAL jobs in that industry can earn six figure salaries - ain't nothin' dismal about that! What I've learned over time is that one of the most important roadblocks to engaging folks in STEM has less to do with who has the highest GPA or IQ than it has to do with the one thing we all seem to have when fighting over that last piece of Aunt Martha's scrumptious apple crumb pie: persistence. STEM teachers will tell you (and data prove it) that when it comes to who gets into STEM occupations, it's the people who stay the course (pun intended).

There is quite a bit of truth that the apple (back to Aunt Martha's pie) doesn't fall from the tree. In fact, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has data that can predict with a fair degree of accuracy, the math and science scores of five and six-year-olds (students in kindergarten) based on the educational attainment of their parents. You guessed it. The higher the probability that Mom and Dad (especially Mom) went to college, the greater the likelihood for higher test scores in science and math for their offspring (NSF, Science and Engineering Indicators, 2014, Appendix table 1-1). However, does that mean that children whose parents barely got past senior prom are doomed to everlasting poverty? Not at all. Remember the prior paragraph on the issue of compensation for admin assistants and truckers? However, what NSF data indicate is that it is easier for children to acquire STEM skills if their parents have at least an undergraduate degree. Please note that easy and persistence are not synonymous. First-generation children who are persistent (remember the tortoise and the hare story?) can do well in STEM. Like E=MC squared, persistence and grit have been proven to work (and put people to work) over time.