I became a lawyer because I wasn’t drawn to math and science (much to the chagrin of my mechanical-engineer mother). Throughout my schooling, I generally preferred to write, argue and debate, rather than spend time in the lab or doing math problems. But even though my current career is not one directly in STEM, I am thankful that my education included STEM and believe STEM should be part of basic education.
The Obama administration’s STEM initiatives are a step in the right direction. What would further enhance STEM education, especially for women, is to more seamlessly integrate STEM learning into overall curricula. In my experience, it seemed that students were sometimes quickly pegged as either a “liberal arts” or a “math/science” type. Both teachers and parents contributed to this pegging (which wasn’t necessarily done consciously).
To counter this effect, I believe it’s important to deliberately integrate STEM education into overall learning. Math, science, and engineering concepts can be woven into other subjects. There’s no reason that STEM cannot be a part of every child’s education. With STEM being more integrated into mainstream education, each student can more naturally gravitate towards his/her interests and aptitudes. Pegging and labels will hopefully be avoided.
I was classified as a liberal-arts type early on; however, I was fortunate to have also been educated in STEM. This occurred regardless of the pegging, because my schools had requirements to ensure I received a broad-based education. Sometimes it was painful (calculus still gives me a headache) but it was for my overall good. My STEM education has been very helpful in my career. As a trial lawyer, I am involved in product liability claims, commercial contract disputes, professional liability claims, and other disputes. While law school honed my written and oral, analysis and advocacy skills, I deal with STEM-related issues constantly. When I defend pharmaceutical companies, I need to understand the science behind the issues. In product liability cases, I have to learn the engineering and technology behind products. In business disputes, I deal with spreadsheets that sometimes involve complex calculations.
STEM is everywhere, as should be STEM education. As a result, many students who may not initially appear to be “math/science” types may in fact emerge as STEM scholars. Furthermore, even if the net numbers of those directly involved in STEM careers does not increase, society as a whole will benefit from increased STEM education and awareness.