Integrating CLASS into the STEM system creates more opportunities
Getting American students to outperform students in other nations is a priority now that education has become a globally competitive arena.
Studies show that the United States ranks 25th in math and 17th in science internationally. To keep up with other countries that have high-performing students on international exams, including India and China, the U.S. Department of Education and President Obama have made plans to expand science, technology, engineering and math education to help the U.S. maintain its position as a global leader.
According to statistics from the Department of Education, only 16 percent of American high school seniors are proficient in math and interested in a STEM career. In addition, of the students who do major in STEM, only 50 percent choose to work in a related STEM field.
The U.S. Department of Education hopes to expand the STEM field by recruiting more STEM teachers and encouraging more students to pursue STEM fields — particularly students from underrepresented groups, like women and minorities.
UH is putting forth its own effort in STEM advancement.
Engineering professor Bonnie Dunbar established the UH STEM Center last year in January 2013. The center’s mission aligns with that of the Department of Education. The UH STEM center also works with the Houston community to advance STEM efforts by working with local primary and secondary education teachers, administrators and parents. It also partners with local science organizations, including the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Houston Zoo and Space Center Houston.
Current student of the teachHOUSTON program and biology senior Crystal Pham said that she believes STEM will help the world progress technologically and become more modern. She also has an optimistic outlook on the growth of STEM.
“People tend to do things that others do. If STEM becomes popular, more people will move in that direction,” Pham said. “If people actually follow the movement, I think that STEM will (become) a big field.”
While there is a need for more students to pursue STEM careers, The Huffington Post argues that the push for STEM has caused the U.S. to rethink the value of a liberal arts education. Critics say that students majoring in the liberal arts lack practical skills needed in the workforce.
CLASS Academic Affairs Director Janie Graham believes otherwise.
“I feel that being well-rounded in all aspects makes you a marketable student and employee,” Graham said. “Our liberal arts students don’t give themselves the credit they deserve to be able to say they have skills that are needed in the working world.”
The Huffington Post reports that 95 percent of employers in a U.S. believe that a job candidate’s undergraduate major is not as important as being able to demonstrate the abilities “to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems.”
Pham agrees that having written and oral communication skills are important.
“You have to be able to communicate and write in the STEM field as well,” Pham said. “I have trouble writing. It’s not my area.”
Despite the negative stereotypes that surround a liberal arts education — most prominently that liberal arts majors tend to earn much less than those who pursue STEM careers — the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems released a report earlier this year that indicates that the negative stereotypes are misleading.
“Society makes us feel that way. We need to make ourselves feel that we have a purpose,” Graham said.
AAC&U President Carol Geary Schneider made a statement about misconceptions surrounding liberal arts education.
“Recent attacks on the liberal arts by ill-informed commentators and policy makers have painted a misleading picture of the value of the liberal arts to individuals and our communities,” Schneider said. “As the findings in this report demonstrate, majoring in a liberal arts field can and does lead to successful and remunerative careers in a wide array of professions.”
Art senior Leah Esparza thinks students have something to gain from a liberal arts education.
“I can say that being a liberal arts major, one will learn critical thinking skills, creativity and how to be diverse,” Esparza said. “As a liberal arts student, critical thinking, communication and understanding diversity in today’s working world are skills that can transfer to almost any job. Although they may be simple skills to some people, they are skills that can make one professional and just as successful as a math and science major.”
Among the key findings in the report published by AAC&U, it was found that liberal arts majors earn more at the peak earning ages of 56-60 years than professional majors. Furthermore, unemployment rates are low for liberal arts graduates, and although engineering graduates have the highest median salaries, college degrees in any discipline lead to increased earnings over time and protect against unemployment.
“With time and experience money will come,” Graham said.
Earnings aside, Graham said that she believes that “no dollar amount can be put on what (liberal arts majors) do.”
The Association for Middle Level Education suggests that educators recognize the “A” in STEM. According to AMLE, it is possible for educators to integrate the liberal arts in STEM education. For example, the social and liberal arts provide a context for studying attitudes, ethics and customs in STEM disciplines.
Instead of focusing on the negative stereotypes surrounding the liberal arts and lauding STEM disciplines, we need to appreciate the value of both. By adding an “A” to STEM, so to speak, students will have a foundation in which they can explore the historical and philosophical implications of STEM disciplines as well as be able to express their ideas through research and written communication.
A liberal arts education helps students look beyond a right or wrong answer, it asks students to explore the questions surrounding how ideas and concepts have come to be.
Opinion columnist Rama Yousef is a creative writing senior and may be reached at [email protected]