How to prepare for a STEM career

​STEM composes a rewarding and enriching set of careers. Learn more about working in this realm.

How tech leaders can encourage diversity in STEM At the 2018 Grace Hopper Celebration, Julie Elberfeld of Capital One discussed why companies must work to bring in women, minorities, and other underrepresented groups.

STEM is a hot concept in education. According to Livescience.com "STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines — science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — in an interdisciplinary and applied approach. Rather than teach the four disciplines as separate and discrete subjects, STEM integrates them into a cohesive learning paradigm based on real-world applications."

There's a burgeoning need for this type of focus, and, as the article continues, STEM doesn't necessarily require a college degree. Plus, starting salaries in the field are generally more than 25% higher than in non-STEM careers proving its promise and versatility.

SEE: How system admins can stay relevant: 10 tips (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Why STEM? Why now?

I discussed how STEM is growing with Chuck Cohn, Founder & CEO of Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students and professionals with personalized instruction.

Scott Matteson: What skills/educational background are required or would be advantageous to those seeking a career in a STEM field?

Chuck Cohn: Fields like technology are constantly evolving, and if you don't develop the right skills to remain competitive, you might be left behind. In fact, 65% of children entering primary school today will work in jobs that don't yet exist. And as careers across the nation — including sports analysis — become increasingly more technology-focused, access to proper skills training will be essential.

According to Varsity Tutors' STEM data report, "The Midwest: America's Heartland for STEM Growth" we found a nationwide trend in artificial intelligence (AI) and coding languages — and these skills are changing the way Americans interact with technology. Varsity Tutors saw a 3x increase in robotics, AI and machine learning tutoring interest. Computer science is also a widely popular subject on our platform, and we saw a rise across the country for C++ tutoring requests — 12 times more requests from Q4 2017 to Q1 2018.

Other programming languages are on the rise, and there have been three times the requests for Python, six times the request for Java, and two times the requests for SQL. As the sports industry becomes more tech-centric, there's an opportunity for kids to apply coding and computer science skills for developing analytics-focused technology for basketball and other athletic leagues.

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STEM in the classroom

Scott Matteson: How should colleges and universities prepare students for STEM fields?

Chuck Cohn: As our world becomes more technologically advanced, STEM is more important than ever and opens the door for graduates to the most versatile and high-paying jobs available today. Universities should include science, technology, engineering, and math courses to the core curriculum and encourage more major degrees in those fields. Mentorship programs are also a great option — colleges can match students with STEM-focused mentors with similar backgrounds and interests, to pique interest and support pursuing a degree in a STEM field.

However, I think there needs to be more emphasis and encouragement for students, even before college, on the importance of STEM subjects. There tend to be negative stereotypes about math and science subjects. Many parents and adults inadvertently reinforce it by statements like, "I'm terrible at math." As soon as children enter school, parents should highlight and promote STEM fields in a positive way.

STEM job market

Scott Matteson: What sort of job market is expected to arise from the STEM concept?

Chuck Cohn: There is clearly an appetite for STEM subjects ranging from high school students to adult learners, and the tech skills gap is slowly closing. The tech job market is only growing, which bodes well for kids who grew up watching sports and want to put their analytical and tech skills to work in a field they love.

Thankfully, the internet provides today's students with unlimited opportunities to explore and improve their relationship with technology. Companies are also willing to offer flexible and remote working conditions more than ever before, so engineers and developers no longer need to be stationed in a traditional tech hub to find tech work.

SEE: Gift guide 2017: Wearables, STEM toys for kids, and top tech picks for teens and adults (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Scott Matteson: Can you provide some subjective examples of STEM-related jobs and the daily duties involved therein?

Chuck Cohn: The top ranking STEM-related job is a software engineer, which earns a median salary of more than $100K (See: 9 hot software engineering jobs and the high salaries they command).

Typically, software developers are creative with deep technical expertise to execute on innovative ideas. From designing programs to developing new code, the daily duties vary. Other careers in STEM don't always mean computer science. A nurse practitioner, for example, is a career in STEM.

Scott Matteson: What sort of salaries can STEM graduates expect to earn?

Chuck Cohn: According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the initial starting salary projections for Class of 2019 bachelor's degree graduates strongly indicate that those with STEM degrees will continue to earn the highest starting salaries, according to results of Winter 2019 Salary Survey. The top-paid graduates this year are expected to earn engineering ($69,188), computer science ($67,539), and math and sciences degrees ($62,177).

The linked article provides several other categories in the STEM fields and their respective salaries.

Scott Matteson: Where is STEM heading?

Chuck Cohn: Tech hubs are no longer the only places where innovation, curiosity, and engagement with technology happens.

Americans as a whole recognize the role technology plays in their daily lives and are eager to capitalize on the promise of the tech industry. The speed of technology growth and adoption means there will always be more to learn and new skills to gain.

Also see

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By Scott Matteson

Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.