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Supporting Students in Identifying and Exploring STEM Careers with Digital Education

Sep 27, 2017, 10:52 AM

LEAF interns measure trees in Tolland State Park in Otis, Massachusetts with Land Steward, Sam Perron. They calculate the carbon mass that these tress can absorb from the air and contrast the data they collect from a sample taken in a city park.

STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) is becoming ever more important in education as our children and students continue to grow up in an increasingly technology-driven world. STEM education is important for many reasons, not only because it is a driver for future generations’ economic livelihood, but also because youth need to be prepared with the right tools to meet the challenges of the current and future day. Our advances in science and technology demand not only a workforce trained with STEM skills, but also a society informed of STEM disciplines.

The economic case to pursue education for a STEM-related career is clear. Salaries for science, technology, engineering and math jobs have nearly doubled since the 1980s. Unemployment among new graduates with bachelor’s degrees and above between 2011 and 2014 in STEM fields faced an unemployment rate of only 3.2 percent compared to non-STEM degrees at 7 percent. The U.S. Department of Labor – Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) employment projections on the fastest growing occupations, have identified that many STEM careers show a projected 19-37 percent growth increase from 2012 to 2022.

What is not always clear is how to inspire a love for STEM subjects at home and in the classroom and how to support students in identifying and exploring a STEM career pathway. Our students and children are unique, with their own sets of interests, hobbies and strengths. Luckily, the STEM career field is highly varied with jobs in everything from computer science and health care to natural science and engineering. But students may not always understand how their learning in school translates into a career later in life.

One way to help students embrace STEM subjects is to expose them to the real work that scientists, engineers, and mathematicians do. This can be a challenge since it’s hard to reach out to these professionals and bring them into the classroom to address their careers in a kid-friendly way. That’s where digital technology in education can help us as parents and teachers to expose children to STEM fields and careers. Finding good quality educational resources via the internet has never been easier, and many trusted science-based organizations like NASA, NOAA, National Geographic, PBS, and The Nature Conservancy all provide resources that can be used by parents and teachers alike to help inspire and educate children about STEM disciplines.

Students from Chamblee Middle School in Atlanta, Georgia conduct a habitat survey – looking for pollinators, insects, and other wildlife – in their school garden which is used as an outdoor science lab.

Students from Chamblee Middle School in Atlanta, Georgia conduct a habitat survey – looking for pollinators, insects, and other wildlife – in their school garden which is used as an outdoor science lab.

For example, The Nature Conservancy, the world’s largest science-based conservation organization with over 600 staff scientists, is helping expose students to STEM careers by bringing science professionals directly into the classroom. By hosting several virtual field trips that feature scientists in various professions across the globe, The Nature Conservancy is helping connect students with nature right in the classroom and helping to show students the variety of STEM careers available to them. In February 2015, nearly 30,000 students tuned in to view a live virtual field trip with Conservancy scientist Charles Oluchina, who was broadcasting from Nairobi, Kenya to speak about his work as a scientist in East Africa. On April 8, 2015, Kari Vigerstol, a senior hydrologist at the Conservancy will share her knowledge and work during a virtual trip to the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest and the deserts of Arizona.

These virtual field trips are fun, engaging, and take students to see places and meet people they may never have the opportunity to see or meet in their everyday lives. Digital technology is not always easy to use as a parent or a teacher, but with resources like this, it makes it much easier to engage and inspire our kids to embrace STEM education. Through the collective effort of parents, teachers, and organizations that provide great STEM education resources, we can help drive our children towards success in STEM fields.

Check out for free, archived versions of The Nature Conservancy’s virtual field trips and access to many other quality educational resources on the science of the environment.

Britta Culbertson is the Education and Outreach Manager for the Nature Works Everywhere Program (NWE) at The Nature Conservancy. Prior to joining The Nature Conservancy, Britta was an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and a long-time high school science and art teacher. As an Education Manager at The Nature Conservancy, Britta helps educate future generations on the importance of nature to their everyday-lives.

Photo credit: Courtesy of The Nature Conservancy; (Top right) Richard Howard, (Bottom right) Nick Burchell