Education fads usually change as often as our Midwest weather, but STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) has stuck and appears to be here for the long term.  Why does it have legs, and why do we need STEM? Increasingly, technology is becoming a basic skill for any workplace, and science, engineering, and math are needed to tackle some of life’s biggest challenges and society’s most serious problems. Future jobs are not the only reason why a STEM education is so critical, though. STEM education creates a mindset of creativity and inquiry and a respect for and understanding of the difference and importance of fact versus opinion. It provides opportunities for students to see real-world connections, and it promotes equity in education.

Increased Creativity

While STEM is heavily fact-based, it does not involve robotic, emotionless people. Far from it, actually. Early implementation of STEM education in schools has been shown to bolster creativity in kids. Why? The nature of STEM education demands that students create their own, unique solutions to problems. Not only that, but design principles such as drawing, modeling, building, and prototyping are foundational to fields like architecture and engineering. From an early age, kids learn that creativity produces results.

Real World Applications and Shadowing

A quality STEM education immerses students in hands-on activities.  They learn to collaborate, they make mistakes, and they may fail more than they succeed. That is what learning is – or should be – all about.  Also, a sound STEM education connects kids to real-world practitioners through classroom visits, summer camps, mentorships, or shadowing.  Check out the SIR program at IMSA ( or the AAR program in Palo Alto schools ( to see what high school kids can do when they pursue research that excites them with the support of a mentor in the field!  There are a plethora of STEM competitions that students can enter as well. My personal favorite is the High School International Mathematics Modeling Competition in which a team of 4 students has 36 hours to solve one real-world problem.  Here is an example of one they had to solve in preventing road rage: This is an unmatched opportunity for students to see their work being applied in the real world.

Promotes Equality in Educational Opportunities

One of the greatest challenges in STEM education has been to assure that historically underrepresented students and girls have access to and opportunities for a high-quality STEM experience.  I am encouraged how companies and institutions support summer camps such as in DuPage County, Illinois where Travelers Insurance, Target, the NAACP, and North Central College’s Junior Senior Scholars programs run six weeks of camps for 200 underrepresented students.  Likewise, significant national initiatives support STEM education for girls:  The White House has pledged not only to broaden the scope of STEM educational opportunities but also to tackle the gender gap within technical and scientific fields.  Additionally, programs like the New York Academy of Sciences’ 1000 Girls — 1000 Futures, The Scientista Foundation and Million Women Mentors provide pushes for girls to go into the STEM fields. Million Women Mentors aims to increase the percentage of high school girls planning to pursue STEM careers as well as the percentage of young women pursuing undergraduate degrees in STEM fields. This movement hopes to accomplish their mission by providing STEM mentors to girls for at least twenty hours a year!

Continued efforts like these foster a growth mindset that serves the students well in later schooling and in life and is one measure of “college and career readiness” more important than test scores.  

Encourages Questions

One of the foundations of math and science is to question everything. Asking questions introduces critical, processed thinking to young learners. When students ask questions during their STEM research, teachers cannot typically give a “yes” or “no” answer, but rather encourage the student to think even further and pursue resources well beyond the classroom and campus. Following a process such as the scientific method is an excellent tool for young minds to create a pathway of thought that has applications in everyday life and well beyond just STEM fields.

STEM education has many benefits. Included but not limited to increased creativity, real-world applications, promotion of gender equality and encouragement of questions. Research has shown that four in five college STEM students began their STEM career in high school or earlier. STEM education not only creates a pathway to success for students, it can truly – to quote IMSA’s mission statement:  “ignite and nurture creative, ethical, scientific minds that advance the human condition.”