STEM Workforce Pipeline Paradox


Massachusetts is the nation’s leading knowledge and information based state economy—a greater per cent of our workforce is working in STEM jobs than any other state.



Massachusetts’ 4th and 8th graders score #1 in the country in Math, and the 4th graders are tied for 1st and the 8th graders are tied for 2nd place in science on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).



The most recent ten-year trend line show Massachusetts’ high school students are choosing to major in STEM majors at post secondary institutions at rates well below the national average.


How can Massachusetts lead the nation in preparing students effectively in math and science, yet graduate alarmingly low numbers of students in STEM fields?



Career awareness and experiential learning together prepare and inspire students to enter STEM fields...


Raising student performance on standardized tests alone is insufficient. Coupling academic preparation with interest is an important key to growing the STEM pipeline. Educational research and national trade association studies identify two strategies designed to both prepare and motivate students to enter STEM fields: career awareness and experiential learning.


In general, students and parents have had little exposure to engineering and technical fields. Many are not aware of the array of opportunities, and adolescents see little relevance between these fields and their futures. There are also significant disparities in career interests by gender, race, and ethnicity. For example, despite equally high achievement on the SAT, the top quintile of female scorers express about 60% less interest in pursuing STEM fields than males.



Strategy 1: Stimulate interest in STEM subjects and careers early, even as early as elementary and middle school, and sustain interest throughout high school.


Classroom engagement significantly increases students’ commitment to learning. Students become more engaged when learning is experiential—hands-on, inquiry-based, and project-oriented. Experiential learning connects content to real-world applications and integrates technology and 21 st century skills. These kinds of classroom experiences, guided by the support of the teacher and other role models, build not only motivation and interest, but also confidence, especially among girls and underrepresented minorities.


Strategy 2: Support the transformation of K-12 science and mathematics classrooms to more experiential, inquiry-based, 21 st century learning environments.


“national demographics are shifting. In the last decade, as the U.S. population grew from 249 million to 281.4 million, the minority population increased 35 percent overall. While the non-Hispanic white population grew only 3.4 percent, the Hispanic population grew by 58 percent, Asian Americans by 50 percent, and African-Americans by 16 percent. Since our traditional science, mathematics, engineering, and technology (SMET) workforce is nearly 82 percent white and more than 75 percent male, it appears unlikely that we can replace it with a similar population.

And so, when we look to the available talent pool, it looks very different from the cohort that they will replace. Minority youth and young women, groups traditionally underrepresented in the sciences and engineering professions, now form the majority — what I call “the new majority” — the underrepresented majority. They have the talent, it needs only to be engaged, encouraged, nurtured, and prepared.” (The Perfect Storm: A Weather Forecast, a speech by Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson at AAAS 2/14/04)


Strategy 3: Provide intensive, multi-year, out- of-school time programs for under-represented youth that provide “hands on” STEM experiences and “minds on” life mastery skills programs.