Monday, May 16, 2011

Career Pathways in STEM Afterschool Programs

Out-of-school time STEM programs are often designed to inspire or spark participants' interest in pursuing STEM careers. There are a few reasons why this is important in creating, designing and/or supporting programs. First, the United States--and the world--is in need of a STEM workforce, and few students are prepared to fill that need. Check out the many statistics compiled on the non-partisan, non-profit initiative Change the Equation website citing the low numbers of U.S. students who are ready for college.

Second, despite the market crash in 2008 and the slow recovery since, STEM jobs are in high-demand. According to a recent New York Times article, six of the top ten fastest-growing occupations as outlined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics are STEM-related--from biological research scientists to technology specialists to medical professionals to engineers, and many of those jobs require at least a Bachelor's degree and some specialized training.

Finally, in an environment where education programs are increasingly required to justify themselves to avoid budget cuts, tying programs to college- and career-readiness allow more stakeholders to have vested interest in those programs. Companies and corporations that require science, technology, engineering, and math graduates--or students who have skills and technical training in those fields--may seek to partner with programs that promote the development of a future workforce.

If you don't currently incorporate career exploration into your afterschool program, here are some things to consider:
  • What type of backgrounds do your students have? Students may have STEM skills or an interest in learning more, but depending on their backgrounds, they may not have the tools to put those skills into practice. Do they know about saving for college, the financial resources available to them, what entrance exams to take, and the timeline for applying? Are you equipped to provide that information, and if not, can you partner with a school guidance counselor or other community member?
  • How old are your students? At what age do you think it is appropriate to start talking about college and careers with your students? Bringing up college and career goals in mid- to late-elementary school may be a way to help encourage goal-setting from an early age.
  • Do program participants have access to real STEM professionals so they can see how their skills are put into practice? Role models and personal mentoring can be very important in supporting and shaping student interest. Check out this guide from Techbridge developed in partnership with Google for programs and professionals to get started on the mentoring process.
Great afterschool programs certainly have a place in supporting the development of a STEM workforce. To see this principle in practice, see this ten-year evaluation from renowned Chicago program Project Exploration on how high-quality science content and mentoring services can foster higher education in STEM subjects. And for even more information about different programs across the country that support STEM career exploration, see our recent LinkedIn discussion on the subject.

No comments: