Guest Column: Stem? Steam? What is it really all about?

Published 10:12 pm Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Guest Column by Valerie Kvale

A lot of conversation in the world of education and business recently has been around STEM and STEAM. Your first reaction might be, “What in the world…?” Let me explain.  STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and math. It’s all about career education and decision-making as it relates to your future employment.

Valerie Kvale

STEM touches every part of our lives. Science is everywhere. Technology is continuously expanding into every aspect of our lives. Engineering is the basic designs of roads and bridges, but also tackles the challenges of changing global weather and environmentally-friendly changes to our home. Mathematics is in every occupation and just about every activity we do in our lives.

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An article posted in 2016 on the website states that according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, STEM occupations are growing at 17 percent, while other occupations are growing at 9.8 percent. STEM degree holders have a higher income even in non-STEM careers. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics workers are key in the sustained growth and stability of the U.S. economy, and are  critical to helping the U.S. win the future. STEM creates critical thinkers, increases science literacy and enables the next generation to create. Innovation leads to new products and processes that sustain our economy. This innovation and science literacy depends on a solid knowledge base in the STEM areas. It is clear that most jobs of the future will require a basic understanding of math and science. Despite these compelling facts, mathematics and science scores among U.S. students on average are lagging behind other developing countries.

What does this mean? Almost all aspects of work and life are going to have a STEM connection, so students need to have a strong math, science and critical thinking base. Businesses struggle to find employees. Many students are enrolled in a four-year college with no firm and fast direction, only to graduate with significant debt.

Programs in our schools can bring businesses and students together. Students may not know that their interest in science, technology, engineering and math is a real career path. By taking these classes, students can discover they have a passion for it and hopefully pursue a job in a STEM field. I recently did a Google search for the “top 10 STEM careers.” This web link,, revealed these careers: 1. Software developer, 2. Computer systems analyst, 3. Information security analyst, 4. Web developer, 5. Accountant, 6. School psychologist, 7. Mechanical engineer,  8. Operations research analyst,   9. IT manager and 10. Civil engineer. All of these occupations are going to include math, science, critical thinking and technology. All of these careers will lead to a rich future both career-wise and financially.

A curriculum that is STEM-based has real-life situations to help the student learn. Programs like Engineering For Kids integrate multiple classes to provide opportunities to see how concepts relate to life in order to hopefully spark a passion for a future career in a STEM field. STEM activities provide hands-on and minds-on lessons for the student. Making math and science both fun and interesting helps the student to do much more than just learn.

Watch for future articles to learn more about what is already happening in our area schools and what you can do as a parent to encourage your student’s interest in the STEM or STEAM career fields.

Valerie Kvale is the Freeborn County placement specialist with Workforce Development Inc. and chairs the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce’s Business Education Committee.