STEMbeats Blog

Pennsylvania's Gender Divide in Career/Technical Education

February 23, 2017

Last Friday, I was honored to give a plenary talk to an inspiring group of career and technical education (CTE) advocates at the Winter Meeting of the Pennslyvania Association of Career & Technical Administrators. Before traveling to the Keystone State, I looked into some data on the condition of STEM CTE there. Two conclusions leapt out at me:

  1. In Pennsylvania, STEM CTE creates a pathway to solid and plentiful middle class jobs;
  2. The pathways young Pennsylvanians choose depend largely on their gender. 

In both regards, Pennsylvania resembles the nation as a whole. At a time when STEM employers are looking for all the talent they can get, this gender segregation is bad for their bottom line, the nation, and the thousands of young people who need access to more and better jobs. The good news is that advocates and educators in Pennsylvania are on the case.

You can download my presentation to PACTA here, or check out some of the major takeaways below:

Middle-skill STEM jobs in PA

PA girls flock to health CTE, avoid other STEM fields

PA STEM Gender imbalance--cte

Computing credentials below bachelors plummet

Engineering: PA women gain in bachelor's, fall in subbaccalaureate

Tags: Career Technical Education, women & girls

New Data: New Science Standards Are Boosting Engineering in Schools

February 21, 2017

Let's usher in this year's National Engineers Week with some good news. We've crunched some numbers, and it looks like efforts to make engineering part of the K-12 curriculum are beginning to pay off. 

Why? Our guess is that the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are succeeding in their aim to integrate engineering and technology into science classrooms. These standards debuted in April 2013, and eight states adopted them by the end of that year: California, Delaware, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington State.

We had a look at data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) eighth-grade science test to see if schools in those eight states were teaching more engineering and technology. NAEP is a good tool for this exploration, because it surveys teachers and students about engineering and technology in the classroom, among other subjects.

What we found suggests that the Next Generation Science Standards are making a difference in schools. Between 2011 and 2015, teachers in the first states to adopt the standards increased the amount of class time they spent on engineering and technology:

NGSS is boosting class time

Sticklers might note that these gains could have occurred before April 2013, when the new standards burst upon the scene. Unfortunately, we can't settle that question definitively, because we lack data from that year. Still, the data we do have make a very strong case for NGSS. States that adopted the standards after 2013, or that never adopted them at all, saw smaller gains between 2011 and 2015.

One striking finding from our analysis is that the early adopter states started from behind. This pattern holds when we examine each of those states individually. In 2011, eighth-graders in our eight NGSS states were less likely than their peers in the nation as a whole to spend at least "some" time on engineering and technology. The picture looked dramatically different in 2015:

Individual states ramping up engineering & tech

What does it mean to spend "some" or "a lot" of time on engineering and technology? The results of another NAEP survey question offer at least some insight: "About how often do your science students discuss the kinds of problems that engineers can solve?" Here again, it appears that the NGSS states started well behind their peers but caught up:

NGSS boosting engineering in classrooms

These data reinforce our conclusion that teachers in NGSS states have grown more likely to focus on engineering. So far, so good. But are their students noticing the difference? The results of another NAEP survey item suggest that they are...but only up to a point.

NGSS students more likely to notice tech & engineering

Again, the NGSS states have made swifter progress than other states, but it seems a tad early to declare victory. Even though more than half (52 percent) of eighth-graders have science teachers who spend time on engineering and technology, far fewer (31 percent) seem to have noticed that fact.

Of course, students may still be learning about engineering and technology without realizing it, but their lack of awareness is troubling. After all, the Standards themselves specify that students should "understand the work of scientists and engineers" and "recognize" that what engineers do is "a creative endeavor." We know we haven't reached the goal line if so many students don't yet recognize engineering or technology when they see it.

On balance, though, we should be optimistic. We have strong evidence that standards can make a difference in the classroom, and in a relatively short time. In fact, engineering and technology are probably more pervasive now than our numbers suggest: almost two years have passed since the 2015 NAEP test, and more states have adopted the Standards.

The ultimate test of the Standards' success, of course, will be students' performance. That verdict will have to wait a bit longer. States are still developing tests that incorporate engineering--and they can use federal money to do it. And a representative sample of U.S. eighth-graders will take NAEP's next Technology and Engineering Literacy Assessment in 2018.

In the meantime, states and districts must continue the hard work of creating teaching materials, training teachers, and providing supplies to make engineering real in the classroom. If they succeed, future Engineers Weeks will bring even better news.

NOTE: We were not able to assess the impact of NGSS on another jurisdiction that adopted them before 2014: Washington, DC. Unfortunately, the 2015 science NAEP did not include state-level results for DC.

Tags: engineering, computer science, Next Generation Science Standards

Technical school can offer big rewards--if you have a strong academic foundation

February 9, 2017

For a good summary of why high schoolers shouldn't pin all their college aspirations on just four-year degrees, head over toThe New York Times. Author Jeffrey Selingo mounts a strong defense of technical degrees, certifications, and apprenticeships.

Here's the money quote (quite literally):

[Georgetown University] research has found that 40 percent of middle-skills jobs pay more than $55,000 a year; some 14 percent pay more than $80,000 (by comparison, the median salary for young adults with a bachelor’s degree is $50,000).

There is a catch, however. Students who struggle academically in K-12 will face an uphill battle in technical school, and they are much less likely to land these rewarding jobs. Selingo's piece opens with a shocking anecdote:

When the German engineering company Siemens Energy opened a gas turbine production plant in Charlotte, N.C., some 10,000 people showed up at a job fair for 800 positions. But fewer than 15 percent of the applicants were able to pass a reading, writing and math screening test geared toward a ninth-grade education.

That amounts to thousands of people who are hungry to work but lack the skills to get available jobs. As we consider how to reinvigorate communities ravaged by the loss of traditional manufacturing work, education has to be a big part of the answer.

Fortunately, some companies, like Siemens, John Deere, and Dow are tackling the challenge head on by collaborating with community colleges to create education and training programs that lead to good jobs. Check out Selingo's account to learn more.

Tags: jobs & workforce

The Iowa STEMworks Partnership may reach 100,000 students

January 25, 2017

The Iowa Governor's STEM Advisory Council has just selected nine STEM education programs to receive more than $3 million in state funds. That tidy sum may allow them to reach as many as 100,000 Iowa children in the 2017/2018 school year. 

Change the Equation proudly collaborated with the Council on this critical work. We help leaders in Iowa and six other states identify and scale programs that are most likely to have an impact. All too often, state funds go to programs with the glossiest brochures. Our STEMworks protocol requires programs to prove their effectiveness

Iowa used STEMworks to review STEM programs and found that nine of them are worthy of state support:

  • Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education (CASE) - This high school program immerses students in inquiry-based exercises that reinforce the math and science that undergird agricultural mechanics and engineering. 
  • Engineering is Elementary (EiE) - This rigorously-researched, classroom-tested curriculum boosts elementary students’ interest and confidence in engineering. EiE is designed to encourage all children—including those from underrepresented groups—to envision themselves as potential engineers. 
  • Engineering the Future (EtF) - This curriculum for grades eight through twelve helps all students, including women and minorities, become literate in introductory engineering and technology li. Students will design, build and test prototypes while applying math, science and engineering practices, working creatively and collaboratively, and experiencing the engineering design cycle in a real-world context.
  • FIRST Robotics Competition - Facing strict rules, limited resources and an intense, six-week time limit, teams of 10 or more students must raise funds, design a team "brand," hone teamwork skills, and build and program industrial-size robots to play a difficult field game against like-minded competitors.
  • Making STEM Connections - This maker program gives teachers and youths tools to inspire the “maker mentality” through safe and engaging maker experiences. Building upon the natural inclination to tinker, this program empowers participants to explore STEM principles and 21st Century Skills as they design, create and make.
  • PowerTeaching Math - PowerTeaching Math is a leader in helping teachers transform their classroom environments by using cooperative learning strategies to engage all students.
  • Project Lead The Way (PLTW): Launch - This program empowers students to adopt a design-thinking mindset in tackling real-world projects that build upon each other and relate to the world around them and reinforce academic knowledge and skills.
  • Ramps and Pathways - This program for young children nurtures engineering habits of mind as children build their own technology of marble runs; a type of Rube Goldberg machine. In the process, children grapple with the laws of physics, properties of objects, how those properties affect motion and engage in spatial thinking.
  • Spatial-Temporal (ST) Math - This game-based instructional software used by schools across the country boosts math comprehension and proficiency through visual learning. 

Iowa's approach has been paying off. Their research finds that students who participate in STEMworks programs outperform those who do not. Given that they reach roughly 100,000 students every year, that's a lot of bang for their 3.2 million bucks.

Other state STEMworks partners will soon announce their results as well. Stay tuned!

Guest Blog: Catharine Shay, Paying it Forward by Mentoring

January 25, 2017

What first sparked your interest in STEM as a career path?
Development opportunities, available experiences, and options. 

Job satisfaction has always been important to me, so when looking at career paths, I wanted to ensure that I had opportunities to continually learn and develop new skills, access to a broad range of experiences and the ability to change jobs with ease as my interests changed over the years.

When I entered college, there were very few women in engineering fields, I saw this both as a challenge and as an opportunity to pave the way for others. Engineering was a way that I could utilize my love for math to develop new technologies that address both local and global challenges. 

How did you get involved in STEM mentoring?

I did not have many STEM role models available to me as a child, during college I sought them out.  My very first mentor proved invaluable; she encouraged me to not only develop myself but also sparked my interest in developing others. This grew into a passion for me, and today I mentor students interested in pursuing STEM careers, coach mentors of students and advocate for my community through board leadership and business partnerships. 

I am very fortunate to have an opportunity to work with Saint Paul Public School students through 3M STEP (Science Training Encouragement Program).  As chair of this program, I help students see how the science principles learned in the classroom are applied to create transformative products and technologies.  Through mentoring, classroom instruction and summer employment in a 3M laboratory, STEP students increase their job skills, gain insight into scientific careers, and enhance their personal development.  Paying it forward and giving back on behalf of those who spent, and continue to spend, their time mentoring me has been a big driver, and I encourage others to do the same. Building our communities to be successful in the future is important to me. STEM skills are highly transferrable and in demand – creating not only valuable but tangible opportunities for the students of today.


How do you leverage your experience as a mentor in your professional life?

Mentoring provides reflection and perspective and has enabled me to be a better leader. It has enhanced my problem solving skills, sharpened my critical thinking abilities, reinforced the value of listening and being mindful in my daily interactions and taught me to communicate and coach more effectively.

Much of the advice that I provide is relevant in my own life.  One common example:  I often encourage mentees to not be so hard on themselves, to be more kind to themselves – this is also a challenge for me every day.  Learning to manage expectations, of yourself and others, can be an asset to you in your career and personal life.

My love of learning also enables me to leverage my experience. The perspective that mentees can provide enables me to stay relevant and seek appropriate feedback. Once a good rapport is established, candid dialogue can occur – providing development to both the mentee and mentor.  For example, communication styles. With the feedback from my mentees, I have been able to successfully coach mentors through differing communication styles across generations.


What advice do you have for someone who wants to pursue STEM as a career path?

Seek out a mentor – or several!

What advice do you have for someone who wants to pursue mentoring?

The same. Seek out a mentor if you do not already have one yourself! 

You also need to be prepared. It is important that you are ready to be present in the relationship, actively listen, and invest yourself in your mentee’s success. You will be providing critical insights and maneuvering unwritten rules with your mentee as they navigate the unknown. Remember:  Mentoring is not about teaching, it is about understanding and offering guidance.

I find that good mentors have long standing mentors themselves – they value the relationship and have experienced the rewards. Mentoring relationships can span a lifetime and bring growth to all involved, and I believe everyone can benefit from a mentor in their life.

Catharine Shay is a Global Operations Manager for 3M Business Transformation and a community role model and advocate for STEM education.

January is National Mentoring Month for more information on the month’s activities and mentoring opportunities visit,