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Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics

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Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM, previously SMET) is a term that refers to the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.[1] The term is typically used when addressing education policy and curriculum choices in schools to improve competitiveness in science and technology development. It has implications for workforce development, national security concerns and immigration policy.[1]

The acronym arose in common use shortly after an interagency meeting on science education held at the US National Science Foundation chaired by the then NSF director Rita Colwell.[2] A director from the Office of Science division of Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists, Peter Faletra, suggested the change from the older acronym METS to STEM. Colwell, expressing some dislike for the older acronym, responded by suggesting NSF to institute the change. One of the first NSF projects to use the acronym was STEMTEC, the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Teacher Education Collaborative at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, which was funded in 1998.[3]


Other variationsEdit

  • STM (scientific, technical, and mathematics;[4] or science, technology, and medicine; or scientific, technical, and medical)
  • eSTEM (environmental STEM) [5][6]
  • iSTEM (Invigorating Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics); identifies new ways to teach STEM-related fields.
  • METALS (STEAM + Logic), introduced by Su Su at Teachers College, Columbia University.[citation needed]
  • STREM (Science, Technology, Robotics, Engineering and Mathematics); adds robotics as a field.
  • STREM (Science, Technology, Robotics, Engineering and Multimedia); adds Media as a field.
  • STREAM (science, technology, Robotics, engineering, and mathematics); adds robotics field.
  • STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics)[7]
  • STEAM (science, technology, engineering and applied mathematics); more focus on applied mathematics[8]
  • GEMS (Girls in Engineering, Math, and Science); used for programs to encourage females into these science fields.[9][10]
  • BEMS (Boys in Engineering, Math, and Science); used for programs to encourage males into these science fields.[citation needed]
  • STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine)
  • AMSEE (Applied math, science, engineering, and entrepreneurship)

Geographic distributionEdit

United StatesEdit

In the United States, the acronym began to be used in education and immigration debates in initiatives to begin to address the perceived lack of qualified candidates for high-tech jobs. It also addresses concern that the subjects are often taught in isolation, instead of as an integrated curriculum.[11] Maintaining a citizenry that is well versed in the STEM fields is a key portion of the public education agenda of the United States.[12] The acronym has been widely used in the immigration debate regarding access to United States work visas for immigrants who are skilled in these fields. This version of the term is accredited to Texas. It has also become commonplace in education discussions as a reference to the shortage of skilled workers and inadequate education in these areas.[13] The term tends not to refer to the non-professional sectors of the fields that remain more invisible such as electronics assembly line work, for example.

National Science FoundationEdit

Many organizations in the United States follow the guidelines of the National Science Foundation on what constitutes a STEM field. The NSF uses a broader definition of STEM subjects that includes subjects in the fields of chemistry, computer and information technology science, engineering, geosciences, life sciences, mathematical sciences, physics and astronomy, social sciences (anthropology, economics, psychology and sociology), and STEM education and learning research.[1][14] Eligibility for scholarship programs such as the CSM STEM Scholars Program use the NSF definition.[15]

The NSF is the only American federal agency whose mission includes support for all fields of fundamental science and engineering, except for medical sciences.[16] Its disciplinary program areas include scholarships, grants, fellowships in fields such as biological sciences, computer and information science and engineering, education and human resources, engineering, environmental research and education, geosciences, international science and engineering, mathematical and physical sciences, social, behavioral and economic sciences, cyberinfrastructure, and polar programs.[14]

Immigration policyEdit

Although many organizations in the United States follow the guidelines of the National Science Foundation on what constitutes a STEM field, the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has its own functional definition used for immigration policy.[17] In 2012, DHS or ICE announced an expanded list of STEM designated-degree programs that qualify eligible graduates on student visas for an optional practical training (OPT) extension. Under the OPT program, international students who graduate from colleges and universities in the United States are able to remain in the country and receive training through work experience for up to 12 months. Students who graduate from a designated STEM degree program can remain for an additional 17 months on an OPT STEM extension.[18][19]

STEM-eligible degrees in US immigrationEdit

An exhaustive list of STEM disciplines does not exist because the definition varies by organization. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement lists disciplines including[20] physics, actuarial science, chemistry, biology, mathematics, applied mathematics, statistics, computer science, computational science, psychology, biochemistry, robotics, computer engineering, electrical engineering, electronics, mechanical engineering, industrial engineering, information science, information technology, civil engineering, aerospace engineering, chemical engineering, astrophysics, astronomy, optics, nanotechnology, nuclear physics, mathematical biology, operations research, neurobiology, biomechanics, bioinformatics, acoustical engineering, geographic information systems, atmospheric sciences, educational/instructional technology, software engineering, and educational research.


By cultivating an interest in the natural and social sciences in preschool or immediately following school entry, the chances of STEM success in high school can be greatly improved. School integration can help black, Hispanic and aboriginal students catch up to Asian and white students.[21]

STEM supports broadening the study of engineering within each of the other subjects, and beginning engineering at younger grades, even elementary school. It also brings STEM education to all students rather than only the gifted programs. In his 2012 budget, President Barack Obama renamed and broadened the "Mathematics and Science Partnership (MSP)" to award block grants to states for improving teacher education in those subjects.[22]

STEM education often uses new technologies such as RepRap 3D printers to encourage interest in STEM fields.[23]

In 2006 the United States National Academies expressed their concern about the declining state of STEM education in the United States. Its Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy developed a list of 10 actions. Their top three recommendations were to:

  • Increase America's talent pool by improving K–12 science and mathematics education
  • Strengthen the skills of teachers through additional training in science, mathematics and technology
  • Enlarge the pipeline of students prepared to enter college and graduate with STEM degrees[24]

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration also has implemented programs and curricula to advance STEM education in order to replenish the pool of scientists, engineers and mathematicians who will lead space exploration in the 21st century.[24]

Individual states, like California, have run pilot after-school STEM programs, for example, to learn what the most promising practices are and how to implement them to increase the chance of student success.[25] Another state to invest in STEM Education is Florida, where Florida Polytechnic University, Florida’s first public university for engineering and technology dedicated to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), was established.[26]

Continuing STEM education has expanded to the post-secondary level through masters programs such as The University of Maryland's STEM Program[27] as well as the University of Cincinnati.[28]

Racial gap in STEM fieldsEdit

In the United States, the National Science Foundation found that the average science score on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress was lower for black and Hispanic students than white, Asian, and Pacific Islanders.[29] In 2011, eleven percent of the U.S. workforce was black, while only six percent of STEM workers were black.[30] Though STEM in the U.S. has typically been dominated by white males, there have been considerable efforts to create initiatives to make STEM a more racially and gender diverse field.[31]

American Competitiveness InitiativeEdit

In the State of the Union Address on January 31, 2006, President George W. Bush announced the American Competitiveness Initiative. Bush proposed the initiative to address shortfalls in federal government support of educational development and progress at all academic levels in the STEM fields. In detail, the initiative called for significant increases in federal funding for advanced R&D programs (including a doubling of federal funding support for advanced research in the physical sciences through DOE) and an increase in U.S. higher education graduates within STEM disciplines.

The NASA Means Business competition, sponsored by the Texas Space Grant Consortium, furthers that goal. College students compete to develop promotional plans to encourage students in middle and high school to study STEM subjects and to inspire professors in STEM fields to involve their students in outreach activities that support STEM education.

The National Science Foundation has numerous programs in STEM education, including some for K–12 students such as the ITEST Program that supports The Global Challenge Award ITEST Program. STEM programs have been implemented in some Arizona schools. They implement higher cognitive skills for students and enable them to inquire and use techniques used by professionals in the STEM fields.

The STEM Academy is a national nonprofit-status organization dedicated to improving STEM literacy for all students. It represents a recognized national next-generation high-impact academic model. The practices, strategies, and programming are built upon a foundation of identified national best practices which are designed to improve under-represented minority and low-income student growth, close achievement gaps, decrease dropout rates, increase high school graduation rates and improve teacher and principal effectiveness. The STEM Academy represents a flexible use academic model that targets all schools and is for all students.[32]

Project Lead The Way (PLTW) is a leading provider of STEM education curricular programs to middle and high schools in the United States. The national nonprofit organization has over 5,200 programs in over 4,700 schools in all 50 states. Programs include a high school engineering curriculum called Pathway To Engineering, a high school biomedical sciences program, and a middle school engineering and technology program called Gateway To Technology. PLTW provides the curriculum and the teacher professional development and ongoing support to create transformational programs in schools, districts, and communities. PLTW programs have been endorsed by President Barack Obama and United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as well as various state, national, and business leaders.

STEM Education CoalitionEdit

The Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Coalition[33] works to support STEM programs for teachers and students at the U. S. Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, and other agencies that offer STEM-related programs. Activity of the STEM Coalition seems to have slowed since September 2009.

Boy Scouts of AmericaEdit

The Boy Scouts of America have announced the roll out of an awards program in the spring of 2012 to promote more interest and involvement in the STEM disciplines. The NOVA and SUPERNOVA awards are available to Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts and Venturers as they complete specific requirements appropriate to their program level in each of the four main STEM program areas: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

Department of Defense programsEdit

[34] The eCybermission is a free, web-based science, mathematics and technology competition for students in grades six through nine sponsored by the U.S. Army. Each webinar is focused on a different step of the scientific method and is presented by an experienced eCybermission CyberGuide. CyberGuides are military and civilian volunteers with a strong background in STEM and STEM education, who are able to provide valuable insight into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to students and team advisers.

STARBASE is a premier educational program, sponsored by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs. Students interact with military personnel to explore careers and make connections with the "real world." The program provides students with 20–25 hours of stimulating experiences at National Guard, Navy, Marines, Air Force Reserve and Air Force bases across the nation.

SeaPerch is an innovative underwater robotics program that trains teachers to teach their students how to build an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV) in an in-school or out-of-school setting. Students build the ROV from a kit composed of low-cost, easily accessible parts, following a curriculum that teaches basic engineering and science concepts with a marine engineering theme.


NASAStem is a program of the U.S. space agency NASA to increase diversity within its ranks, including age, disability, and gender as well as race/ethnicity. [35]


The America COMPETES Act (P.L. 110-69) became law on August 9, 2007. It is intended to increase the nation's investment in science and engineering research and in STEM education from kindergarten to graduate school and postdoctoral education. The act authorizes funding increases for the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology laboratories, and the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science over FY2008–FY2010. Robert Gabrys, Director of Education at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, articulated success as increased student achievement, early expression of student interest in STEM subjects, and student preparedness to enter the workforce.


In November 2012 the White House announcement before congressional vote on the STEM Jobs Act put President Obama in opposition to many of the Silicon Valley firms and executives who bankrolled his re-election campaign.[36] The Department of Labor identified 14 sectors that are "projected to add substantial numbers of new jobs to the economy or affect the growth of other industries or are being transformed by technology and innovation requiring new sets of skills for workers."[37] The identified sectors were as follows: advanced manufacturing, Automotive, construction, financial services, geospatial technology, homeland security, information technology, Transportation, Aerospace, Biotechnology, energy, healthcare, hospitality, and retail.

The Department of Commerce notes STEM fields careers are some of the best-paying and have the greatest potential for job growth in the early 21st century. The report also notes that STEM workers play a key role in the sustained growth and stability of the U.S. economy, and training in STEM fields generally results in higher wages, whether or not they work in a STEM field.[38]

Hong KongEdit

STEM education has not been promoted among the local schools in Hong Kong until recent years. In November 2015, the Education Bureau of Hong Kong released a document entitled Promotion of STEM Education,[39] which proposes the strategies and recommendations on promoting STEM education.


Around the world, STEM education initiatives vary in scope, size, type, target populations and funding sources. A list of organizations that are currently engaged in STEM Education activities and outreach across Sub-Saharan Africa has emerged. The organizations range in size, scope, funding mechanisms, and mission statements. However, they are all focused on improving STEM Education in the continent.


There have been numerous programs and attempts to establish a national approach to STEM education in Australia. In 2009, the iSTEM (Invigorating STEM) program was established as an enrichment program for high school students in Sydney, Australia. The program focussed on providing activities for interested students and their families in STEM. The success of the program has resulted in numerous Universities and science organisations supporting the program. The iSTEM ( program also organises an enrichment program to taking students and teachers to the US Space Academy Program. (

National recognition of the iSTEM program has included the NSW State Engineering and Science Awards for Innovation in Maths and Science Teaching and the Daily Telegraph GoWest Community People Choice Awards. In 2015 the founder and coordinator of the program, Dr. Ken Silburn, received the Prime Minister's Award for Secondary Science Teaching.


Canada ranks 12th out of 16 peer countries in the percentage of its graduates who studied in STEM programs, with 21.2%, a number higher than the United States, but lower than countries such as France, Germany, and Austria. The peer country with the greatest proportion of STEM graduates, Finland, has over 30% of their university graduates coming from science, mathematics, computer science, and engineering programs.[40]

Scouts CanadaEdit

Scouts Canada has taken similar measures to their American counterpart to promote STEM fields to youth. Their STEM program began in 2015.[41]

Schulich Leader ScholarshipsEdit

In 2011 Canadian entrepreneur and philanthropist Seymour Schulich established the Schulich Leader Scholarships, $100 million in $60,000 scholarships for students beginning their university education in a STEM program at 20 institutions across Canada. Each year 40 Canadian students would be selected to receive the award, two at each institution, with the goal of attracting gifted youth into the STEM fields.[42] The program also supplies STEM scholarships to five participating universities in Israel.[43]


Turkish STEM Education Task Force (or FeTeMM—Fen Bilimleri, Teknoloji, Mühendislik ve Matematik) is a coalition of academicians and teachers who show an effort to increase the quality of education in STEM fields rather than focussing on increasing the number of STEM graduates.[44][45]


In Qatar, AL-Bairaq is an outreach program to high-school students with a curriculum that focuses on STEM, run by the Center for Advanced Materials (CAM) at Qatar University. Each year around 946 students, from about 40 high schools, participate in AL-Bairaq competitions.[46] AL-Bairaq make use of project-based learning, encourages students to solve authentic problems, and inquires them to work with each other as a team to build real solutions.[47][48] Research has so far shown positive results for the program.[49]

Viet NamEdit

In Viet Nam, beginning in 2012 many private education organizations has STEM education initiatives.

In 2015, the Ministry of Science and Technology and Liên minh STEM organized the first National STEM day, followed by many similar events across the country.

in 2015, Ministry of Education and Training included STEM as an area needed to be encouraged in national school year program.

In May 2017, Prime Minister signed a Directive no. 16 stating: "Dramatically change the policies, contents, education and vocational training methods to create a human resource capable of receiving new production technology trends, with a focus on promoting training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), foreign languages, information technology in general education; " and asking "Ministry of Education and Training (to): Promote the deployment of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in general education program; Pilot organize in some high schools from 2017 to 2018.


Current campaigns to increase the gender balance within STEM fields include the UK's WISE[50] as well as mentoring programs, such as the Million Women Mentors initiative connecting girls and young women with STEM mentors[51] and Verizon's #InspireHerMind project.[52] The US Office of Science and Technology Policy during the Obama administration is collaborating with the White House Council on Women and Girls to increase the participation of women and girls within STEM fields[53] along with the "Educate to Innovate" campaign.[54]

Women in STEM fields are often underrepresented, holding less than 25% of the jobs in the U.S.[55] and 13% in the UK (2014).[56] In the United States, studies have been conducted to explain this pattern, such as mechanisms in recruitment and hiring processes.[57] On average, women in STEM fields earn 33% more than those in non-STEM professions.[58] However, women can be found as leaders in top professions around the country. These include the U.S. Department of Defense, NASA, and the National Science Foundation (NSF).[59][60]

Though women nearly comprise half of the US workforce, they've held less than 25% of STEM jobs consistently over the last decade.[51][verification needed] Women and other minorities[clarification needed] account for 75% of college students but earn only 45% of STEM degrees each year.[51] While 12% of women in bachelor programs will get a degree in STEM each year, only 3% go on to work within the STEM field.[51] According to the National Science Foundation, only 28% of U.S. scientists and engineers working in science and engineering occupations are women, with 6.5% Asian women, 1.6% black women, and 1.8% Hispanic women.[61] While nearly 60% of bachelor's degrees are awarded to graduating women each year, less than 20% are in computer science.[62]

A 2012 study[63] in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States showed that an implicit bias exists against hiring women for even entry-level STEM positions. This study had faculty members in university biology, chemistry, and physics departments judge applications for a laboratory manager position. These applications only differed in name (i.e., John vs. Jennifer).


The focus on increasing participation in STEM fields has attracted criticism. In the 2014 article "The Myth of the Science and Engineering Shortage" in The Atlantic, demographer Michael S. Teitelbaum criticized the efforts of the U.S. government to increase the number of STEM graduates, saying that, among studies on the subject, "No one has been able to find any evidence indicating current widespread labor market shortages or hiring difficulties in science and engineering occupations that require bachelor's degrees or higher", and that "Most studies report that real wages in many—but not all—science and engineering occupations have been flat or slow-growing, and unemployment as high or higher than in many comparably-skilled occupations." Teitelbaum also wrote that the then-current national fixation on increasing STEM participation paralleled previous U.S. government efforts since World War II to increase the number of scientists and engineers, all of which he stated ultimately ended up in "mass layoffs, hiring freezes, and funding cuts"; including one driven by the Space Race of the late 1950s and 1960s, which he wrote led to "a bust of serious magnitude in the 1970s."[64]

IEEE Spectrum contributing editor Robert N. Charette echoed these sentiments in the 2013 article "The STEM Crisis Is a Myth", also noting that there was a "mismatch between earning a STEM degree and having a STEM job" in the United States, with only around ¼ of STEM graduates working in STEM fields, while less than half of workers in STEM fields have a STEM degree.[65]

Economics writer Ben Casselman, in a 2014 study of post-graduation earnings for FiveThirtyEight, wrote that, based on the data, science should not be grouped with the other three STEM categories, because, while the other three generally result in high-paying jobs, "many sciences, particularly the life sciences, pay below the overall median for recent college graduates."[66]

See alsoEdit


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Further readingEdit

External linksEdit