Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics

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Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), previously Science, Math, Engineering and Technology (SMET),[1] is a term used to group together these academic disciplines.[2] This term is typically used when addressing education policy and curriculum choices in schools to improve competitiveness in science and technology development, it has implications for workforce development, national security concerns and immigration policy.[2] The science in STEM typically refers to two out of the three major branches of science: natural sciences, including biology, physics, and chemistry, and formal sciences, of which mathematics is an example, along with logic and statistics; the third major branch of science, social sciences, including psychology, sociology, and political science, are categorized separately from the other two branches of science, and are instead grouped together with humanities and arts to form another counterpart acronym named HASS - Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.[3] In the United States education system, in elementary, middle, and high schools, the term science refers primarily to the natural sciences, with mathematics being a standalone subject, and the social sciences are combined with the humanities under the umbrella term social studies.

The change was, in part, instigated at an interagency meeting by Peter Faletra the director from the Office of Science division of Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists; the acronym was adopted by Rita Colwell and other science administrators in the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2001. However, the acronym STEM predates NSF and was used by a variety of educators including Charles Vela, the founder and director of the Center for the Advancement of Hispanics in Science and Engineering Education (CAHSEE).[4][5][6] In the early 1990s, CAHSEE started a summer program for talented under-represented students in the Washington, DC area called the STEM Institute. Based on the program's recognized success and his expertise in STEM education,[7] Charles Vela was asked to serve on numerous NSF and Congressional panels in science, mathematics and engineering education;[8] it is through this manner that NSF was first introduced to the acronym STEM. One of the first NSF projects to use the acronym[citation needed] was STEMTEC, the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Teacher Education Collaborative at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, which was founded in 1998.[9]

Other variations[edit]

  • STM (Scientific, Technical, and Mathematics;[10] or Science, Technology, and Medicine; or Scientific, Technical, and Medical)
  • eSTEM (environmental STEM) [11][12]
  • STEMIE (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Invention and Entrepreneurship); adds Inventing and Entrepreneurship as means to apply STEM to real world problem solving and markets.[13]
  • iSTEM (invigorating Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics); identifies new ways to teach STEM-related fields.
  • STEMLE (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Law and Economics); identifies subjects focused on fields such as applied social sciences and anthropology, regulation, cybernetics, machine learning, social systems, computational economics and computational social sciences.
  • MEd Curriculum Studies: STEMS²[14] (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Social Sciences and Sense of Place); integrates STEM with social sciences and sense of place.
  • METALS (STEAM + Logic),[15] introduced by Su Su at Teachers College, Columbia University.[citation needed]
  • STREM (Science, Technology, Robotics, Engineering, and Mathematics); adds robotics as a field.
  • STREM (Science, Technology, Robotics, Engineering, and Multimedia); adds robotics as a field and replaces mathematics with media.
  • STREAM (Science, Technology, Robotics, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics); adds robotics and arts as fields.
  • STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics)[16]
  • A-STEM (Arts, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics);[17] more focus and based on humanism and arts.
  • STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Agriculture, and Mathematics); add Agriculture.
  • STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Applied Mathematics); more focus on applied mathematics[18]
  • GEMS (Girls in Engineering, Math, and Science); used for programs to encourage women to enter these fields.[19][20]
  • STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Medicine)
  • AMSEE (Applied Math, Science, Engineering, and Entrepreneurship)
  • THAMES (Technology, Hands-On, Arts, Mathematics, Engineering, Science)
  • THAMES (Technology, Humanities, Arts, Mathematics, Engineering, and Science; includes all three branches of science: natural science, social science, and formal science)
  • MINT (Mathematics, Informatics, Natural sciences and Technology)

Geographic distribution[edit]

United States[edit]

In the United States, the acronym began to be used in education and immigration debates in initiatives to begin to address the perceived lack of qualified candidates for high-tech jobs, it also addresses concern that the subjects are often taught in isolation, instead of as an integrated curriculum.[21] Maintaining a citizenry that is well versed in the STEM fields is a key portion of the public education agenda of the United States;[22] the acronym has been widely used in the immigration debate regarding access to United States work visas for immigrants who are skilled in these fields. It has also become commonplace in education discussions as a reference to the shortage of skilled workers and inadequate education in these areas;[23] the term tends not to refer to the non-professional and less visible sectors of the fields, such as electronics assembly line work.

National Science Foundation[edit]

Many organizations in the United States follow the guidelines of the National Science Foundation on what constitutes a STEM field; the NSF uses a broader definition of STEM subjects that includes subjects in the fields of chemistry, computer and information technology science, engineering, geosciences, life sciences, mathematical sciences, physics and astronomy, social sciences (anthropology, economics, psychology and sociology), and STEM education and learning research.[2][24] Eligibility for scholarship programs such as the CSM STEM Scholars Program use the NSF definition.[25]

The NSF is the only American federal agency whose mission includes support for all fields of fundamental science and engineering, except for medical sciences,[26] its disciplinary program areas include scholarships, grants, fellowships in fields such as biological sciences, computer and information science and engineering, education and human resources, engineering, environmental research and education, geosciences, international science and engineering, mathematical and physical sciences, social, behavioral and economic sciences, cyberinfrastructure, and polar programs.[24]

Immigration policy[edit]

Although many organizations in the United States follow the guidelines of the National Science Foundation on what constitutes a STEM field, the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has its own functional definition used for immigration policy.[27] In 2012, DHS or ICE announced an expanded list of STEM designated-degree programs that qualify eligible graduates on student visas for an optional practical training (OPT) extension. Under the OPT program, international students who graduate from colleges and universities in the United States are able to remain in the country and receive training through work experience for up to 12 months. Students who graduate from a designated STEM degree program can remain for an additional 17 months on an OPT STEM extension.[28][29]

STEM-eligible degrees in US immigration[edit]

An exhaustive list of STEM disciplines does not exist because the definition varies by organization; the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement lists disciplines including[30] physics, actuarial science, chemistry, biology, mathematics, applied mathematics, statistics, computer science, computational science, psychology, biochemistry, robotics, computer engineering, electrical engineering, electronics, mechanical engineering, industrial engineering, information science, information technology, civil engineering, aerospace engineering, chemical engineering, astrophysics, astronomy, optics, nanotechnology, nuclear physics, mathematical biology, operations research, neurobiology, biomechanics, bioinformatics, acoustical engineering, geographic information systems, atmospheric sciences, educational/instructional technology, software engineering, and educational research.


By cultivating an interest in the natural and social sciences in preschool or immediately following school entry, the chances of STEM success in high school can be greatly improved.[citation needed]

STEM supports broadening the study of engineering within each of the other subjects, and beginning engineering at younger grades, even elementary school, it also brings STEM education to all students rather than only the gifted programs. In his 2012 budget, President Barack Obama renamed and broadened the "Mathematics and Science Partnership (MSP)" to award block grants to states for improving teacher education in those subjects.[31]

In the 2015 run of the international assessment test the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), American students came out 35th in mathematics, 24th in reading and 25th in science, out of 109 countries; the United States also ranked 29th in the percentage of 24-year-olds with science or mathematics degrees.[32]

STEM education often uses new technologies such as RepRap 3D printers to encourage interest in STEM fields.[33]

In 2006 the United States National Academies expressed their concern about the declining state of STEM education in the United States, its Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy developed a list of 10 actions. Their top three recommendations were to:

  • Increase America's talent pool by improving K–12 science and mathematics education
  • Strengthen the skills of teachers through additional training in science, mathematics and technology
  • Enlarge the pipeline of students prepared to enter college and graduate with STEM degrees[34]

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration also has implemented programs and curricula to advance STEM education in order to replenish the pool of scientists, engineers and mathematicians who will lead space exploration in the 21st century.[34]

Individual states, such as California, have run pilot after-school STEM programs to learn what the most promising practices are and how to implement them to increase the chance of student success.[35] Another state to invest in STEM education is Florida, where Florida Polytechnic University,[36] Florida’s first public university for engineering and technology dedicated to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), was established.[37] During school, STEM programs have been established for many districts throughout the U.S; some states include New Jersey, Arizona, Virginia, North Carolina, Texas, and Ohio.[38][39]

Continuing STEM education has expanded to the post-secondary level through masters programs such as the University of Maryland's STEM Program[40] as well as the University of Cincinnati.[41]

Racial gap in STEM fields[edit]

In the United States, the National Science Foundation found that the average science score on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress was lower for black and Hispanic students than white, Asian, and Pacific Islanders.[42] In 2011, eleven percent of the U.S. workforce was black, while only six percent of STEM workers were black.[43] Though STEM in the U.S. has typically been dominated by white males, there have been considerable efforts to create initiatives to make STEM a more racially and gender diverse field.[44] Some evidence suggests that all students, including black and Hispanic students, have a better chance of earning a STEM degree if they attend a college or university at which their entering academic credentials are at least as high as the average student's.[45] However, there is criticism that emphasis on STEM diversity has lowered academic standards.[46]

American Competitiveness Initiative[edit]

In the State of the Union Address on January 31, 2006, President George W. Bush announced the American Competitiveness Initiative. Bush proposed the initiative to address shortfalls in federal government support of educational development and progress at all academic levels in the STEM fields. In detail, the initiative called for significant increases in federal funding for advanced R&D programs (including a doubling of federal funding support for advanced research in the physical sciences through DOE) and an increase in U.S. higher education graduates within STEM disciplines.

The NASA Means Business competition, sponsored by the Texas Space Grant Consortium, furthers that goal. College students compete to develop promotional plans to encourage students in middle and high school to study STEM subjects and to inspire professors in STEM fields to involve their students in outreach activities that support STEM education.

The National Science Foundation has numerous programs in STEM education, including some for K–12 students such as the ITEST Program that supports The Global Challenge Award ITEST Program. STEM programs have been implemented in some Arizona schools, they implement higher cognitive skills for students and enable them to inquire and use techniques used by professionals in the STEM fields.

The STEM Academy is a national nonprofit-status organization dedicated to improving STEM literacy for all students, it represents a recognized national next-generation high-impact academic model. The practices, strategies, and programming are built upon a foundation of identified national best practices which are designed to improve under-represented minority and low-income student growth, close achievement gaps, decrease dropout rates, increase high school graduation rates and improve teacher and principal effectiveness; the STEM Academy represents a flexible use academic model that targets all schools and is for all students.[47]

Project Lead The Way (PLTW) is a leading provider of STEM education curricular programs to middle and high schools in the United States; the national nonprofit organization has over 5,200 programs in over 4,700 schools in all 50 states. Programs include a high school engineering curriculum called Pathway To Engineering, a high school biomedical sciences program, and a middle school engineering and technology program called Gateway To Technology. PLTW provides the curriculum and the teacher professional development and ongoing support to create transformational programs in schools, districts, and communities. PLTW programs have been endorsed by President Barack Obama and United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as well as various state, national, and business leaders.[citation needed]

STEM Education Coalition[edit]

The Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Coalition[48] works to support STEM programs for teachers and students at the U. S. Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, and other agencies that offer STEM-related programs. Activity of the STEM Coalition seems to have slowed since September 2008.


In 2012, the Boy Scouts of America began handing out awards, titled NOVA and SUPERNOVA, for completing specific requirements appropriate to scouts' program level in each of the four main STEM areas; the Girl Scouts of the USA has similarly incorporated STEM into their program through the introduction of merit badges such as "Naturalist" and "Digital Art".[49]

SAE is an international organization, solutions'provider specialized on supporting education, award and scholarship programs for STEM matters, from pre-K to the College degree,[50] it also promotes scientific and technologic innovation.

Department of Defense programs[edit]

[51] The eCybermission is a free, web-based science, mathematics and technology competition for students in grades six through nine sponsored by the U.S. Army; each webinar is focused on a different step of the scientific method and is presented by an experienced eCybermission CyberGuide. CyberGuides are military and civilian volunteers with a strong background in STEM and STEM education, who are able to provide valuable insight into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to students and team advisers.

STARBASE is a premier educational program, sponsored by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs. Students interact with military personnel to explore careers and make connections with the "real world." The program provides students with 20–25 hours of stimulating experiences at National Guard, Navy, Marines, Air Force Reserve and Air Force bases across the nation.

SeaPerch is an innovative underwater robotics program that trains teachers to teach their students how to build an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV) in an in-school or out-of-school setting. Students build the ROV from a kit composed of low-cost, easily accessible parts, following a curriculum that teaches basic engineering and science concepts with a marine engineering theme.


NASAStem is a program of the U.S. space agency NASA to increase diversity within its ranks, including age, disability, and gender as well as race/ethnicity.[52]


The America COMPETES Act (P.L. 110-69) became law on August 9, 2007. It is intended to increase the nation's investment in science and engineering research and in STEM education from kindergarten to graduate school and postdoctoral education; the act authorizes funding increases for the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology laboratories, and the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science over FY2008–FY2010. Robert Gabrys, Director of Education at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, articulated success as increased student achievement, early expression of student interest in STEM subjects, and student preparedness to enter the workforce.


In November 2012 the White House announcement before congressional vote on the STEM Jobs Act put President Obama in opposition to many of the Silicon Valley firms and executives who bankrolled his re-election campaign;[53] the Department of Labor identified 14 sectors that are "projected to add substantial numbers of new jobs to the economy or affect the growth of other industries or are being transformed by technology and innovation requiring new sets of skills for workers."[54] The identified sectors were as follows: advanced manufacturing, Automotive, construction, financial services, geospatial technology, homeland security, information technology, Transportation, Aerospace, Biotechnology, energy, healthcare, hospitality, and retail.

The Department of Commerce notes STEM fields careers are some of the best-paying and have the greatest potential for job growth in the early 21st century; the report also notes that STEM workers play a key role in the sustained growth and stability of the U.S. economy, and training in STEM fields generally results in higher wages, whether or not they work in a STEM field.[55]

In 2015, there were around 9.0 million STEM jobs in the United States, representing 6.1% of American employment. STEM jobs were increasing around 9% percent per year.[56] Brookings Institution found that the demand for competent technology graduates will surpass the number of capable applicants by at least one million individuals. The BLS noted that almost 100 percent of STEM jobs require postsecondary education, while only 36 percent of other jobs call for that same degree.[57]

Trajectories of STEM graduates in STEM and Non-STEM jobs[edit]

According to the 2014 US Census "74 percent of those who have a bachelor's degree in science, technology, engineering and math — commonly referred to as STEM — are not employed in STEM occupations."[58][59]


In September 2017, a number of large American technology firms collectively pledged to donate $300 million for computer science education in the U.S.[60]

PEW findings revealed in 2018 that Americans identified several issues that hound STEM education which included unconcerned parents, disinterested students, obsolete curriculum materials, and too much focus on state parameters. 57 percent of survey respondents pointed out that one main problem of STEM is lack of students' concentration in learning.[61]

The recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) report card[62] made public technology as well as engineering literacy scores which determines whether students have the capability to apply technology and engineering proficiency to real-life scenarios; the report showed a gap of 28 points between low-income students and their high-income counterparts. The same report also indicated a 38-point difference between white and black students.[63]

The Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC) announced the release of a five-year strategic plan by the Committee on STEM Education of the National Science and Technology Council on December 4, 2018; the plan is entitled "Charting a Course for Success: America's Strategy for STEM Education."[64] The objective is to propose a federal strategy anchored on a vision for the future so that all Americans are given permanent access to premium-quality education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. In the end, the United States can emerge as world leader in STEM mastery, employment, and innovation; the goals of this plan are building foundations for STEM literacy; enhancing diversity, equality, and inclusion in STEM; and preparing the STEM workforce for the future.[65]

The 2019 fiscal budget proposal of the White House supported the funding plan in President Donald Trump's Memorandum on STEM Education which allocated around $200 million (grant funding) on STEM education every year; this budget also supports STEM through a grant program worth $20 million for career as well as technical education programs.[66]

Events and programs to help develop STEM in US schools[edit]



The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority 2015 report entitled, National STEM School Education Strategy, stated that "A renewed national focus on STEM in school education is critical to ensuring that all young Australians are equipped with the necessary STEM skills and knowledge that they will need to succeed."[67] Its goals were to:

  • "Ensure all students finish school with strong foundational knowledge in STEM and related skills"[67]
  • "Ensure that students are inspired to take on more challenging STEM subjects"[67]

Events and programs meant to help develop STEM in Australian schools include the Victorian Model Solar Vehicle Challenge, the Maths Challenge (Australian Mathematics Trust),[68] Go Girl Go Global[68] and the Australian Informatics Olympiad.[68]


Canada ranks 12th out of 16 peer countries in the percentage of its graduates who studied in STEM programs, with 21.2%, a number higher than the United States, but lower than France, Germany, and Austria. The peer country with the greatest proportion of STEM graduates, Finland, has over 30% of their university graduates coming from science, mathematics, computer science, and engineering programs.[69]

SHAD is an annual Canadian summer enrichment program for high-achieving high school students in July; the program focuses on academic learning particularly in STEAM fields.[70]

Scouts Canada has taken similar measures to their American counterpart to promote STEM fields to youth, their STEM program began in 2015.[71]

In 2011 Canadian entrepreneur and philanthropist Seymour Schulich established the Schulich Leader Scholarships, $100 million in $60,000 scholarships for students beginning their university education in a STEM program at 20 institutions across Canada; each year 40 Canadian students would be selected to receive the award, two at each institution, with the goal of attracting gifted youth into the STEM fields.[72] The program also supplies STEM scholarships to five participating universities in Israel.[73]


Several European projects have promoted STEM education and careers in Europe. For instance, Scientix[74] is a European cooperation of STEM teachers, education scientists, and policymakers; the SciChallenge[75] project used a social media contest and the student-generated content to increase motivation of pre- university students for STEM education and careers.

STEM is a very significant skill but have not got enough stress in Eastern European countries; that is the reason why for establishments: E-PROschool (Hu) Elite Teachers Academy (Hu), University in Sabadka (Sb) Sztaki (Sk) and Essential (Ro) started to conduct research on how STEM competencies can be improved even in foreign language lessons. It seems to be evident that not all STEM competencies can be enhanced, but only some of them; these are the followings; curiosity, logical thinking, creativity, critical thinking, team work, planning, coding, outside-the-box thinking, etc. As a result of this research totally new language teaching method, approach and also a new type of language exam are expected.[citation needed]

Hong Kong[edit]

STEM education has not been promoted among the local schools in Hong Kong until recent years. In November 2015, the Education Bureau of Hong Kong released a document entitled Promotion of STEM Education,[76] which proposes the strategies and recommendations on promoting STEM education.


In the Philippines, The STEM name is used as a strand for Senior High School (Grades 11 and 12) students as signed by the Department of Education or DepEd.


Turkish STEM Education Task Force (or FeTeMM—Fen Bilimleri, Teknoloji, Mühendislik ve Matematik) is a coalition of academicians and teachers who show an effort to increase the quality of education in STEM fields rather than focussing on increasing the number of STEM graduates.[77][78]


In Qatar, AL-Bairaq is an outreach program to high-school students with a curriculum that focuses on STEM, run by the Center for Advanced Materials (CAM) at Qatar University; each year around 946 students, from about 40 high schools, participate in AL-Bairaq competitions.[79] AL-Bairaq make use of project-based learning, encourages students to solve authentic problems, and inquires them to work with each other as a team to build real solutions.[80][81] Research has so far shown positive results for the program.[82]


In Vietnam, beginning in 2012 many private education organizations have STEM education initiatives.

In 2015, the Ministry of Science and Technology and Liên minh STEM organized the first National STEM day, followed by many similar events across the country.

in 2015, Ministry of Education and Training included STEM as an area needed to be encouraged in national school year program.

In May 2017, Prime Minister signed a Directive no. 16[83] stating: "Dramatically change the policies, contents, education and vocational training methods to create a human resource capable of receiving new production technology trends, with a focus on promoting training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), foreign languages, information technology in general education; " and asking "Ministry of Education and Training (to): Promote the deployment of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in general education program; Pilot organize in some high schools from 2017 to 2018.


"Woman teaching geometry"
Illustration at the beginning of a medieval translation of Euclid's Elements (c. 1310 AD)

Women constitute 47% of the U.S. workforce, and perform 24% of STEM-related jobs.[84] In the UK women perform 13% of STEM-related jobs (2014).[85] In the U.S. women with STEM degrees are more likely to work in education or healthcare rather than STEM fields compared with their male counterparts.

The gender ratio depends on field of study. For example, in the European Union in 2012 women made up 47.3% of the total, 51% of the social sciences, business and law, 42% of the science, mathematics and computing, 28% of engineering, manufacturing and construction, and 59% of PhD graduates in Health and Welfare.[86]


The focus on increasing participation in STEM fields has attracted criticism. In the 2014 article "The Myth of the Science and Engineering Shortage" in The Atlantic, demographer Michael S. Teitelbaum criticized the efforts of the U.S. government to increase the number of STEM graduates, saying that, among studies on the subject, "No one has been able to find any evidence indicating current widespread labor market shortages or hiring difficulties in science and engineering occupations that require bachelor's degrees or higher", and that "Most studies report that real wages in many—but not all—science and engineering occupations have been flat or slow-growing, and unemployment as high or higher than in many comparably-skilled occupations." Teitelbaum also wrote that the then-current national fixation on increasing STEM participation paralleled previous U.S. government efforts since World War II to increase the number of scientists and engineers, all of which he stated ultimately ended up in "mass layoffs, hiring freezes, and funding cuts"; including one driven by the Space Race of the late 1950s and 1960s, which he wrote led to "a bust of serious magnitude in the 1970s."[87]

IEEE Spectrum contributing editor Robert N. Charette echoed these sentiments in the 2013 article "The STEM Crisis Is a Myth", also noting that there was a "mismatch between earning a STEM degree and having a STEM job" in the United States, with only around ¼ of STEM graduates working in STEM fields, while less than half of workers in STEM fields have a STEM degree.[88]

Economics writer Ben Casselman, in a 2014 study of post-graduation earnings for FiveThirtyEight, wrote that, based on the data, science should not be grouped with the other three STEM categories, because, while the other three generally result in high-paying jobs, "many sciences, particularly the life sciences, pay below the overall median for recent college graduates."[89]

See also[edit]



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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Media related to STEM at Wikimedia Commons