STEM Beats - October 2012

The Science of Sandy

October 30, 2012

Over the past few days, the East Coast has been battered by Sandy, a storm that is already breaking records. The damage has yet to be fully tallied, but, given the extensive damage to New York City alone, will likely be in the billions.

One question many are asking is how Sandy happened.  After all, by the time it made landfall in New Jersey, the storm didn't even qualify as a hurricane. Throughout its trip up the coastline, the storm was only a Category One hurricane, the weakest on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which NOAA uses to rank a storm's strength and potential for damage. For comparison, Katrina struck New Orleans as a Category Three, and Andrew hit Miami as a Category Five.

Sandy, however, was not an ordinary Category One storm. Sandy's unusual strength up the coast was due to a combination of factors: As it traveled north, Sandy was energized by a low-pressure stream, which carried the storm even farther; a pressure-blocking system over Greenland pushed it westward into the U.S. instead of letting it drift back into the ocean.   

While Sandy was the result of several weather phenomena aligning, it is likely that we can expect more storms as the climate begins to change more quickly. Although hurricanes hit New York as early as 1821, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo perhaps put it most concisely when he remarked that larger storms appear to be a "new reality." It's a prime time for scientists and engineers to come forward and come together to develop systems to help us become more prepared for future storms. 

Tags: science


October 29, 2012

We regret that we have to cancel our October 30th STEM Salon on the implications of the coming election for STEM learning. With Frankenstorm bearing down on us, the Salon is simply impossible. The best laid plans...

Please stay tuned for future STEM Salons. You can check out our past Salons here:

STEM Skills Might Not Guarantee Success, but They Sure Improve the Odds

October 26, 2012

We often write that skills in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) can open doors, even in a tough economy. That view has sparked a few messages and comments from jobless or underemployed STEM professionals who, ahem, see things differently. While we understand their frustration, we stand by our point.

Our STEM Vital Signs research shows that, while a STEM background offers no guarantees—nothing does—it sure does improve the odds. In the past three years, jobless people outnumbered new job postings by more than three to one. In the STEM fields, by contrast, job postings outnumbered the jobless by almost two to one.

Does this mean that every person with a STEM background had an easy time? Sadly, no. For example, our research showed that civil engineers faced long odds. Computer programmers did fine, but not nearly as well as computer systems engineers. And if you lived in Michigan, for example, you probably faced a steeper path than in Virginia or Connecticut.

But our findings do mean that young people coming out of school with strong STEM skills have a better chance, probably a much better chance, of a stable and high-paying career. They have more choices.

Even if you take out healthcare jobs, which many other analyses of the STEM workforce leave out of account, people with STEM backgrounds fared much better on average than those without. But then again, why exclude healthcare jobs? Wouldn’t most people want their doctors and nurses to have more than a passing acquaintance with math, chemistry or biology, for example? (Our analysis included only healthcare jobs that require strong STEM skills.)

Have a look at the two maps below. The first shows the prospects for jobless people in all fields. The second shows the prospects for jobless people with a STEM background. Cool colors (the blues) are bad. Warm colors (the red/peaches) are good. Where would you cast your own lot?

(Click on any state to get more data. Move the map to reveal Alaska or Hawaii. Zoom in to get a better view of the smaller states.)

All occupations: ratio of unemployed people to job postings, 2009-2012

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STEM occupations: ratio of job postings to unemployed people, 2009-2012

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Source: Change the Equation, STEM Help Wanted, 2012. See the study’s methodology.

Tags: Vital Signs, STEM & the states, jobs & workforce

Vital Signs: Women Lose Ground in College Degrees

October 24, 2012

In 2000/01, women earned 33 percent of all college certificates and degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM.) In 2008/2009,* they earned 31 percent. That’s hardly the march of progress. At a time when we need more STEM graduates, our Vital Signs reports reveal that half of our population remains largely out of account.

In only 12 states did women earn more than a third of STEM certificates and degrees. In no state did they earn more than 38 percent. And in most states, as in the country as a whole, women actually lost ground over the past decade.

The map below shows what has happened since 2001. Shades of yellow are bad news: They indicate a drop in the percentage of STEM degrees going to women. Shades of blue, by contrast, would be cause for celebration. Note how little blue is in the map. (The map is interactive. You can move it to reveal Alaska and Hawaii or zoom in to get a closer look at small states like Delaware or Rhode Island. You can also click on any state to see detailed data on trends. Thank you, Google Fusion Tables!)

Change in the percentage of STEM degrees and certificates earned by women: 2000/01-2007/08 

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So what’s to be done? One answer is to start early. Research has long discredited the notion that girls are any worse than boys at math, yet as early as second grade, girls begin to believe that math is for boys. Over time, girls and women hear this message in so many subtle (and not so subtle) ways that it takes hold. We also don't tend to present STEM in ways that appeal to girls: as an instrument of social good. What we need is nothing short of a massive cultural shift.

The wonks among us tend to steer clear of such language. It would be much more comforting to point to a set of clear policy measures that could turn the tide. In this case, however, everyone is on the hook: schools, teachers, parents, the media, policy makers--you name it. We all have to change the equation for girls.

Tags: Vital Signs, women & girls

NY Times features innovative six-year high school

October 22, 2012

Want a good look at the future? It may be inside a high school in Brooklyn. 

We've written a few times about different, creative strategies businesses and the education sector are taking to equipping students with the necessary STEM skills, but few are as in-depth as the efforts IBM is making with the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH), profiled in today's New York Times.

IBM, a CTEq member company, partnered with the NYC Deptartment of Education and the City University of New York, to create the six-year high school. Students leave the program with an associate's degree and the skills to get them an entry-level tech job. Although only in its second year, the program has spawned similar schools across the country, and New York is planning on opening three similar schools in the next two years.  

Early results at the school are promising, and while the program still needs time to develop, it's this type of in-depth innovation -- which takes into accounts the needs of the market and matches it to the needs of students -- that we need to equip students with the skills they need. 

Incidentally, we were a little ahead of the Times on this one: Check out P-TECH principal Rashid Davis and IBM's Grace Suh discussing the program at our May 2012 STEM salon.