STEM is an umbrella term for countless fields of study and occupations. With such a broad reach, it can be hard to grasp what exactly STEM is and why it matters. We can understand STEM as overarching school subjects, however breaking it down into more comprehensive categories and understanding how those categories affect our daily lives can feel like a monumental task. STEM is broad, but it is familiar. Everything from space shuttles to cell phones exist because of STEM.
How many STEM degrees are there? STEM Degree List lists over 400 potential degrees, with some overlap. It may be daunting to approach the plethora of possible degrees with their varied level of specificity, however they can be categorized in familiar ways. The ACT breaks up STEM majors into four categories: science, computer science and mathematics, medical and health sciences, and engineering and technology.
The field of science can further be broken up into life sciences (e.g. biology and psychology), physical sciences (e.g. chemistry and physics), and agricultural and environmental sciences (e.g. forestry and conservation sciences). Computer science and mathematics host many more familiar fields, including finance, computer programming, applied mathematics, and statistics. Medical and health sciences include dentistry, nursing, medicine, and veterinary degrees. Finally engineering and technology can be broken down into various forms and their technician counterparts, including aerospace, agricultural, architectural, biochemical, chemical, civil, structural, software, electrical, mechanical, nuclear, petroleum, systems, and manufacturing engineering.
In May 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported nearly 8.6 million STEM jobs. Within the reported 8.6 million jobs, 45% were in computer occupations, while 19% were in engineering. The remainder was made up by drafters, engineering technicians, and mapping technicians; STEM-related management; STEM-related sales; life and physical science technicians; life scientists; physical scientists; STEM-related postsecondary teachers; architects, surveyors, and cartographers; and mathematical science occupations.
The largest STEM occupations by the same report were application software developers, computer user support specialists, computers systems analysts, systems software developers, network and computer systems managers, computer and information systems managers, wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives for technical and scientific products, computer programmers, mechanical engineers, and civil engineers.
How do all of these fields of study and occupations affect and apply to everyday life? “[Y]ou can imagine the impact of STEM on the economy just by looking at the companies and products revolutionizing our lives. Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and on and on. STEM powers all of them,” ID Tech reports. STEM is everywhere and in everything we do. We have everything from blockchain to bridges because of STEM, and as the world grows increasingly advanced, an understanding of STEM becomes increasingly more beneficial, even to non-STEM workers.
According to the National Science Foundation, “In the 21st century, scientific and technological innovations have become increasingly important as we face the benefits and challenges of both globalization and a knowledge-based economy. To succeed in this new information-based and highly technological society, students need to develop their capabilities in STEM to levels much beyond what was considered acceptable in the past.”
STEM has given us a vast variety of what is important to modern day society. Modern medicine, medical screenings, dentistry, and so on all exist because of STEM work done in the past. Current research in the medical field, such as gene editing and searching for a cure to today’s harshest illnesses like cancer, will shape our future. With added emphasis on STEM in schools and society, it would be possible for the medical fields to advance more quickly than ever before.
Astronomy and astrophysics are other areas of interest. Humans landing on the moon would have seemed like a far-off future one hundred years ago, while today there are discussions of traveling to Mars and colonies off of our home planet. Within this field, we see one of the strengths of STEM: it is something everyone from every country can feel passionately towards and provides opportunities for collaboration between different nations. One of those collaborations, the International Space Station, has been orbiting our planet for over 20 years. Andrew Raupp from STEM.org says, “I think what STEM has done is create geopolitical balance between the East and West. […] Even in the times when we’ve had some [problems globally], STEM has really created some balance.”
STEM can be found in the cities and houses we live in, which are works of urban planning, civil engineering, architecture, and more. In schools, the addition of new technology like smart boards and slightly older technology, like school laptops and educational YouTube videos, are shaping today’s youth for a more technology-driven world. This understanding of technology will not only be important in the future, but is important in the present. CBS news reports that children from age 8 to age 18 spend 7+ hours on average looking at screens. For adults, that number jumps to nearly 11 hours as day, according to a CNN report. STEM is not only in our schools as subjects to be taught, it’s part of our homes, our work, and our daily lives. Even fields that may feel unrelated, like music, photography, and design, have some underpinnings in mathematics. An understanding of STEM is an understanding of the world as a whole.
However, there is a final way in which STEM affects us: it is a means to get to our future. Christopher Kennedy of STEM Teachers NYC said, “I think about some of the biggest challenges we’re facing – water, food and changes in technology – […] I think that’s one of the biggest applications of STEM, […] how do we move onto a [new] electrical grid, how do we think about water in a really careful way, how do we think of fire safety.”
There is not really a question of whether or not STEM applies to our daily lives because STEM is our daily lives, from the places we live to the food we eat. STEM has been a vital part of our past, is an increasingly relevant part of our present, and is an absolute necessity for our future.