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STEM Common Questions & Careers

What is STEM?

STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.  Each of these fields are critically important in our rapidly advancing world.


However, STEM is more than just the sum of its parts.  STEM refers to an integrated, interdisciplinary approach to learning, with emphases on critical thinking, problem solving, analysis, design, and innovation.  These skills are not just important for future scientists and engineers, but also for general literacy and employment in our technology-driven society.

Women in STEM

While the growth of STEM jobs increased three times faster than non-STEM jobs from 2000-2010, there continue to be disparities in gender and race representation.

Currently, women comprise 47% of the overall U.S. workforce, yet perform only 24% of STEM-related jobs.  Among current college graduates, 15.7% majored STEM fields, compared to 32.8% of male college graduates.  Currently, only 26% of college STEM majors are women.  And these differences exist despite the fact that the number of girls and boys who take science and math courses in high school is roughly equal.


What are the sciences of STEM?

Science is a system of knowledge related to the phenomena of the physical world.  Generally speaking, scientific knowledge is gained by making observations and performing experiments to test ideas and concepts.  Physical sciences are devoted to the inorganic world and include fields like physics, astronomy, geology, and chemistry.  The biological sciences related to the living world and includes biology, genetics, and medicine.  Finally, there are many social sciences that relate to human behavior and interaction, such as anthropology, psychology, and economics.


Research within the sciences is based upon the scientific method.  This process begins with an observation and question, followed by formulation of a hypothesis, designing and conducting experiments, analyzing data, and proving, disproving, or modifying the original hypothesis. 

What is technology?

Technology is a broad term, but generally refers to the practical application of science to everyday life and the universe around us.  Examples include tools and machines like cars, hearing aids, and laptop computers, or processes like manufacturing, energy generation, or vaccine development.  New or emerging applications like nanotechnology, biotechnology, and artificial intelligence will shape our future.  We are surrounded by technology every moment of the day, and understanding the scientific foundation of technology is important for safety, sustainability, and continued innovation. 

What is Engineering?

The American Engineers’ Council for Professional Development defines engineering as “the creative application of scientific principles to design or develop structures, machines, apparatus, or manufacturing processes…or to forecast their behavior under specific operating conditions.”  Put more simply, engineering is simply the application of math and science to solve problems.  Fittingly, the term “engineering” is derived from the Latin words “ingeniare” and “ingenium,” meaning “to devise” and “cleverness.” 


Engineering extends way beyond steam engines and suspension bridges.  Today, this broad discipline has branched into mechanical, electrical, chemical, aerospace, civil, computer, and even biomedical engineering. In the foods we eat, the roads we drive, the medicines we take, and the computers we use, engineering touches every aspect of our lives.  While the applications are varied, all branches of engineering fundamentally use math and science to understand problems, create solutions, and make things better.

What is mathematics?

Most of us have taken a math course at some part of our lives.  When we think of math, we often think of addition and subtraction, algebra, geometry, or even calculus.  Yet the field of mathematics is much more, touching almost every aspect of our lives today.  Math is the common language and universal foundation for so many fields, ranging from basic science to engineering, healthcare and business, public policy and government.


Applied mathematics refers to the application of mathematical principles and methods to specific fields, including medicine, engineering, physics, computer science, and finance.  Designing robots, creating computer passwords, predicting the weather, understanding the stock market, or decoding the human genome are all examples of how applied mathematics is utilized in our daily lives.

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