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STEM jobs in the United States are growing twice as fast as other fields. This huge growth has created a situation in which the demand for qualified STEM professionals is high, but the supply of qualified STEM workers is low – especially among women and minority groups.

To make up the difference, we must help students build the necessary competencies and skills to pursue STEM degrees and career opportunities. And to do this, we must ensure families are engaged in STEM education.

The role of family

We know, backed by decades of research, that families play a critical role in children’s academic success, no matter a family’s income or socioeconomic background. We also know that parents and guardians have the biggest influence on a child’s educational and career decisions. Family engagement is essential to strengthen STEM education, bridge the STEM gap and help all children realize their fullest potential.

Few STEM education programs, however, currently engage families in activities and experiences. As a result, many families are unaware of the vast career opportunities in STEM and rely on their own experiences with STEM subjects to guide perceptions about STEM for their children. They also are not equipped to support STEM education decision-making or to guide their children toward STEM career pathways. Families have not been empowered to advocate for high-quality STEM education and programs. This is particularly true for families of female, minority and low-income students who aren’t finding their way into STEM fields.

Introducing early

It is critical that families are added to the STEM equation. We must educate them about job opportunities available in STEM and about ways to support their children’s education and career decisions. We must equip them with tools to expose their children to and inspire their interest in STEM subjects and careers.

Intentionally and effectively engaging families will be a demonstrably effective strategy in inspiring the next generation of STEM professionals, closing the gap for women and other underrepresented students in STEM and ensuring the long-term economic success of our nation.