A Look At The History Of STEM (And Why We Love It)

May 16, 2016

At Marick, we have a passion for technology. That’s a good thing, considering we design and implement technology solutions for our awesome clients so they can be more productive and profitable.

A natural extension of our tech passion lies in STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). That’s why we enjoy working with clients like the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) to help advance their STEM-based initiatives. More on that topic in an upcoming blog post. In the meantime, let’s take a look at STEM and its history over the past few decades.

STEM Defined

STEM is an acronym that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Here’s a simple definition:

“STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

When taught in school, STEM education uses an interdisciplinary, hands-on approach that relates to real-world applications.  

The Importance of STEM

Historically, the U.S. has been a leader in STEM disciplines – but we struggle to maintain an edge. The National STEM Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports and promotes STEM education, says our nation’s technological innovation is in jeopardy. We face a worker shortage across all STEM disciplines, especially the advanced/high-tech manufacturing sector.

Some eye-openings STEM stats to consider:

  • The U.S. Dept. of Education states that only 16% of high school students are interested in a STEM career and have proven a proficiency in mathematics
  • 57% of high school freshmen who declare an interest in a STEM-related field lose interest before they graduate high school
  • By 2018, there’s an estimated need for 8.65 million workers in STEM-related jobs
  • The skills gap in the manufacturing sector is significant. It faces a big shortage of skilled employees – nearly 600,000.

So, the big question is – how do we maintain a global position when it comes to STEM? The answer is education. STEM education is critical for today’s students, because they are tomorrow’s leaders. Without adequate STEM education, our country’s economic wellbeing is at risk. The good news, though, is that tremendous opportunity is out there for those with an interest and solid education in STEM.

Let’s take a closer look at the history of STEM and how it’s evolved to where it is today:

The History of STEM

The Sputnik Era
The spark that put the U.S. on the path to technology and innovation was the launch of the Russian satellite, Sputnik, into space. The year was 1957, and Americans put their competitive spirit into motion. Under the leadership of Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy, Americans were challenged to step up and become leaders in science, technology, engineering and math. 

In 1958, President Eisenhower proposed the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA. The legislation was signed to create the new government agency, and a space program was born. When Eisenhower left office in 1961, President Kennedy continued to push for innovation in the areas of STEM – putting the first American on the moon, among other accomplishments.

The 1970s and 80s continued to see a push that encouraged science education, and many national science programs were established to further advance the topic. The 1980s also brought about big achievements in science and technology – the first cell phone, the first permanent artificial heart, the first Space Shuttle launch, and the first personal computer (do you remember Apple’s famous “1984” commercial for the release of their Macintosh computer?)

In the 1990s, many education councils, such as the National Science Education Standards and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, helped guide U.S. educators’ classrooms with standards and guidelines that shaped their curriculum to better prepare K-12 students in STEM. And the 1990s was also one of the first times an acronym was used to define the topic of STEM. The National Science Foundation originally called it SMET but later changed it to STEM in 2001.

Several published reports in the early 2000s brought attention to the dire need for U.S. students to increase their proficiency in STEM disciplines. A 2005 report from the U.S. National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, called Rise Above the Gathering Storm, stated that U.S. student proficiency in STEM was trailing behind other countries. If we were to succeed as a global leader, our future workforce would need to be better prepared in STEM disciplines.
In 2009, President Obama announced the Educate to Innovate initiative. The goal of the initiative is to move U.S. students to the top of the pack in science and math achievement over the next 10 years. Some of the key milestones in the initiative include increasing federal investment in STEM and preparing 100,000 new STEM teachers by 2021. An April 13th White House press release about the 2016 White House Science Fair and other Obama Administration STEM initiatives states that the U.S. has passed the halfway mark in achieving the goal of preparing 100,000 new STEM teachers.

In next week’s STEM blog post, we’ll share what our client, the FAA, is doing to help advance STEM education for students and educators.