According to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economics and Statistics Administration, growth in STEM jobs was six times greater than that of non-STEM jobs over the past decade. What is the best way to motivate prospective students to pursue STEM degrees and a variety of STEM career paths? There is no one single answer to this question. The solution lies in a combination of elements focusing on the entire pipeline, from kindergarten through careers, and an emphasis on awareness, recruitment and retention. Solutions include, but are not limited to:

1. Exposure to STEM early and often 

Numerous studies indicate middle school as a tipping point in STEM interest.

It is important to meet students where they are. Whether it’s video games, makeup or food, STEM is in everything. It is this unique fact that gives us the ability to align a student’s inherent interests with STEM. Exposing students to hands-on STEM experiences and opportunities, where they innovate solutions, will assist in equipping them with the skills that their future employers will expect of them and might even inspire them to be entrepreneurs.

2. Parental and community engagement

Access to STEM opportunities vary across K-12 school districts, even within the same state. This factor makes parents and communities a key part of the STEM equation. Communities and parents can introduce and reinforce real world applications of STEM concepts through after school programs and in home education. Role models and mentors are also members of this extended community that allow for diverse students envision themselves in STEM careers.

3. Career opportunities and pathway awareness

STEM is an economic equalizer that has the ability to break cycles of generational poverty. According to the ESA, STEM employees earned 29 percent more than their non-STEM counterparts. Moreover, some high paying STEM jobs do not require a bachelor’s degree. Gaining more clarity about STEM career pathways can assist in helping students understand the immense opportunity, while also in alleviating the stigma sometimes associated with STEM in some communities.

STEM is at the heart of our nation’s innovation, prosperity and global competitiveness. STEM goes beyond science, technology, engineering and mathematics and encompasses the non-technical skills and competencies needed by the current and future workforce to be successful in the workplace. We must work collaboratively across sectors to educate, recruit and retain the next generation of STEM leaders, and champion inclusive environments where current and future diverse STEM leaders can thrive.