Second Annual STEM Week Highlights Gaps & Opportunities

Exposure.  Access. Representation.

These concepts emerged as resounding themes from the second annual Massachusetts STEM Week, shedding light on the challenges the Commonwealth still faces in helping its residents attain and succeed in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) careers. With the overarching theme “See Yourself in STEM” guiding the events of the week, leaders from the public, private, and education sectors engaged in data-driven conversations around the status of STEM education, and STEM opportunity, in Massachusetts today.

At a convening hosted by The Boston Foundation on October 24th, a presentation of research and a panel discussion highlighted key predictions for the future of STEM jobs in the Commonwealth, alongside stark differences in representation of select demographic groups.

The research highlighted the demand for STEM jobs in Massachusetts, at levels higher than almost every other state, and emphasized that these jobs are an important part of almost every industry in Massachusetts, including the little-discussed business services, financial, and wholesale/retail sectors.  And the demand will not cease in the future, states a report disseminated at the convening: “Based on projections to 2026, the number of jobs in Massachusetts is expected to increase by 270,000 or 7.4%, but STEM jobs are expected to increase by over 11%. STEM jobs are expected to account for 25% of the total employment growth in the Commonwealth over the next decade.”

Coupled with the steady growth and demand for STEM jobs is the recognition that STEM jobs in Massachusetts are “good” jobs that many times don’t require a bachelor’s degree to obtain.  Entry-level wages for STEM careers are twice that of all Massachusetts occupations, and 1 out of 5 STEM jobs only require a postsecondary certificate or associate’s degree.

The third element of the research highlighted the participation of various demographic groups in STEM jobs – which shed light on several masked differences.  While the statistics show gender representation in Massachusetts STEM jobs is about equal, women make up only 15% of architecture and engineering jobs, and only 26% of computer and mathematical jobs (the average is balanced by women’s representation in healthcare and life, physical, and social science occupations).

Further, the research called attention to the imbalanced representation of minority groups in STEM careers compared to their relative percentages of the workforce.  Most notably, almost 9% of Massachusetts workers are Hispanic/Latinx, but in STEM these workers are represented at only half that rate (4.4%).

What do all of these statistics, taken in combination, tell us?  First, we have a ways to go in providing STEM education and opportunities to all Massachusetts residents that will equip them with the skills needed to obtain STEM jobs, now and in the future.  Second, particular attention must be paid to providing meaningful STEM opportunities to young women, students of color, and high-need students if we are going to achieve a diverse STEM pipeline and provide access, for all young people, to the careers that will endure in an unknown future workforce and economy.

James Peyser, Secretary of Education for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and panelist at the “See Yourself in STEM” event, echoed this:

“We need to give more young people these experiences and opportunities, and we need to particularly reach out to young men and women of color who are underrepresented in the industry. Our students need to have an understanding and appreciation of the opportunities so they can see how they can chart a plan for their futures.”

BoSTEM, a public-private partnership led by Boston Beyond and United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, is working to help increase opportunities for Boston Public School middle schoolers to engage in hands-on STEM activities, learn about STEM careers, and interact with STEM professionals at corporations across Boston and beyond. This initiative is working to break down the barrier of “the unknown” of STEM and STEM careers among Boston’s youth, to help them better understand the opportunities and “see themselves” in the STEM careers of the future. To date, BoSTEM has engaged more than 2,000 middle schoolers in high quality STEM experiences.

A critical component of BoSTEM’s model is to broker field trip experiences for Boston Public School students to STEM corporations across the city, enabling exposure to STEM professionals and the wide array of STEM careers that one can pursue.  During STEM Week alone, six companies provided hands-on field trip experiences to Boston students, including AppleRapid 7Wentworth Institute of TechnologyBoston Society of ArchitectsedX, and Cabot Corporation. These companies then have the opportunity to mentor students throughout the year, providing access and awareness that will be critical to increasing these students’ interest and engagement in STEM and STEM careers.

To kick off STEM Week, BoSTEM partnered with the Boston Public Schools, the Boston Private Industry Council, and Rapid 7 to host “Inspire STEM Together,” which brought together civic, corporate, nonprofit, and education leaders who believe in inspiring Boston’s youth to become the next generation of STEM professionals.

The event featured a panel of current STEM professionals and students in Boston (many of whom are alumni of Boston Public Schools) alongside current Boston Public School students. Wise words from the panel reinforced BoSTEM’s approach and served as a foundation for the activities during STEM Week, and every week, as we pursue our goal to provide Boston youth with the opportunities to acquire and achieve in a STEM career:

“Not every STEM experience will be a good experience, but at least you get an opportunity to explore STEM. My advice to middle schoolers is to keep exploring and do so in a hands-on way.” – Justice Antoine, 8th grader at Martin Luther King K-8 School

“My advice to companies is to teach kids to be adaptable, and create “fireside chats” for students to interact with different departments, executives and others in a STEM company.  These are very inspirational stories, and can show the students that it’s not just a straight path. It inspires students to continue working towards their goal, or allows them to be ok with pivoting towards a new one.” – Jamal Adan, student at Northeastern University and Boston Public Schools alum

BoSTEM’s landscape of STEM programming offers a diverse array of opportunities for students to explore STEM, from medical careers, to chemistry experiments, to boat building and robotics.  Leveraging cross-sector partnerships, we can increase opportunities for exposure, access, and representation by providing Boston’s youth with hands-on exposure to STEM concepts and careers.

If you are a STEM corporation or middle school STEM program looking to inspire Boston youth to pursue STEM, learn how you can get involved in BoSTEM by contacting Julia Kilgore at jkilgore@basb-staging.grrush1n-liquidwebsites.com, or Joe Rosenbaum at jrosenbaum@supportunitedway.org.