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New Research Shows Declining Interest in STEM

Junior Achievement found a 12 percent drop in interest in STEM careers from teenaged boys, and a low level of interest among teenaged girls remains at 11 percent.

(TNS) — NORWALK — Fewer teenagers are wanting to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, according to a new survey by the world’s largest organization dedicated to youth career readiness.

From 2017 to 2018, Junior Achievement found a significant drop in teenaged boys who want a STEM career, down from 36 percent to 24 percent. And the low level of interest among teenaged girls remained unchanged at 11 percent year-over-year.

This is the second year Junior Achievement surveyed a thousand teenagers, between 13 and 17 years old, on behalf of Ernst & Young.

“Given the amount of emphasis placed on STEM education, it’s a bit discouraging to see that those numbers are continuing to go down,” said Ed Grocholski, senior vice president of brand Junior Achievement USA.

Grocholski, who administered the survey, said they found two main factors influencing teenagers’ career interests: the likelihood that they’ll be able to succeed in their career and the ability to help others.

“The satisfaction of knowing you’re helping people is a little more altruistic than what we’ve seen in prior years. That’s certainly an encouraging part of this. It’s also seeing if they can take that desire to help people and translate to opportunities in STEM,” Grocholski said. “Even jobs that traditionally you wouldn’t think require STEM, you’re seeing more and more of that.”

As demand for technical, mathematical skills continues to grow in all facets of employment, Grocholski said the key in generating interest in STEM careers among youths involves both earlier exposure through education and mentoring as well as an emphasis on how such careers help others.

Norwalk Interim Chief Academic Officer Craig Creller said these are two ways the district strives to promote STEM education and careers, which may explain why the survey results are not consistent with his observations in the city’s public schools.

Due to a growing interest in STEM, the district expanded its high school program of studies from a handful of career pathways to about 30 each at Norwalk and Brien McMahon high schools that offer students not only traditional classroom instruction but also internships, apprenticeships, research and community service projects and dual-enrollment opportunities for college credit.

In total, there are about 50 STEM-related courses in the 2018-19 high school program of studies in addition to four academies, such as the tech-focused Norwalk Early College Academy that offers students applied associate degrees at Norwalk Community College in mobile programming, software engineering and web development.

“I think more than ever, students are interested in STEM-related careers especially when they determine it doesn’t necessarily require a higher degree but that it requires skills and training offered right here in Norwalk that prepares them for the job,” Creller said.

“We’re trying to be responsive to the needs of the students but also the world they’re going to inherit when they leave the school system,” he added.

Thomas Seuch also didn’t find the survey results consistent with his observations as Brien McMahon’s science department chairman and the director of the citywide STEM Expo. He said district data — including survey results of students’ career interests — show an uptick in STEM-related fields, as evidenced by more students joining science and engineering pathways at the high schools.

“For years and years it was business. But in the last couple of years, the sciences — especially the health-related sciences — are going through the roof,” Seuch said. “These kids are jumping on it.”

However, Seuch cautions against limiting STEM to careers in the subjects the acronym stands for. Instead, he encourages educators to treat STEM as more of a philosophical approach to prepare students for the future.

Based on conversations with executives from leading STEM companies like IBM and Sikorsky, Seuch said they agreed.

“I tell them I’m a high school science teacher and ask what I can do to prepare my kids. In their words, it’s to communicate, collaborate and problem solve and that’s what STEM should do to prepare students,” Seuch said.

©2018 The Hour (Norwalk, Conn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.