Today, my co-worker and I were at a local high school’s Career Day. We hoped to encourage students to consider careers in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics). I was surprised that many of the students who I spoke with didn’t understand what engineers actually do in their day-to-day jobs.
We talked one-on-one with students about STEAM careers that require college education, particularly in the engineering industry. We also pointed out opportunities to pursue skilled trades for students looking to jump start their careers right out of high school. From my conversations with students today, I couldn’t help but notice a few reoccurring themes.
The Importance of STEAM Education Outreach
Many of the students who I talked with today couldn’t actually describe a job in the engineering career field (even if they had heard the term “engineering” before). It’s important that we start STEAM education outreach at a high school level, or even younger. If students understand their future career opportunities, hopefully they can better prepare themselves while they’re still in high school. It’s too late for students to start thinking about their careers on their high school graduation day!
In addition, I heard first-hand the reasons that many students feel incredibly discouraged from pursuing a career in STEAM. Many of the students told me that “Math is too hard”, and/or “I am not qualified for an internship.” To be clear, these were the two most common phrases I heard today from students, but they might not actually represent every high school student.
The First Reason: “Math Is Too Hard”
First of all, one difficult Math class is not worth quitting an entire career path before you’ve even started. Most college degree programs in engineering require the completion of complex Math courses, such as Differential Equations. However, I have not personally encountered many engineers in industry utilizing courses such as Differential Equations on a daily basis.
I’m not saying that colleges should change their engineering curriculum. However, I do think it’s important to explain to students that Math classes are temporary. Math courses are simply a stepping stone. Complete the course and move on. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it!
In addition, there are many skilled trades in the engineering industry that don’t require a college degree, such as a field position in Survey, or working as a Lab Technician. At the very least, these career fields would be a good place for a high school graduate to start if they are interested in the STEAM field.
The Second Reason: “I Am Not Qualified For An Internship”
In addition, I heard that many of the students felt they were not qualified to apply for an internship. To clarify: at the intern level, companies know that students are just starting out their careers. Companies expect interns to make mistakes and ask a lot of questions.
Personally, I’d rather hire an intern with enthusiasm for my company and our work. I’d rather hire a dependable intern who shows up on time. Those qualities are much more important to me than an intern who “knows everything” about engineering.
So, what do you think? Are students scared of STEAM? How can we continue to better prepare our students for their future careers?
Finally, a huge shout-out to my company, Wood Rodgers, for supporting our student outreach within the community!