Terry Corbell, The Biz Coach
By Terry Corbell
Business Consultant

Why Microsoft Continues Push for ‘Stem’ Studies in College


The home state of Microsoft, Washington, ranks fourth in technology-based corporations, but is 46th in tech graduates



Do you ever wonder why technology companies push for an increase in H1B visas as part of immigration reform? They need skilled workers.

There will be more than 1.2 million new STEM jobs in by 2018, says the U.S Department of Labor. (STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math.) But there’s a serious shortage of American college grads to get those jobs.

ID-10097899 imagerymajesticConcurrently, an entrepreneurial scholar, Dr. Scott Shane, ostensibly believes the United States has surrendered its global lead in technology. (See Is the U.S. in Danger of Becoming Second-Rate in High Tech?)

More than 100 CEOs, including Microsoft’s, launched Change the Equation, to scale up improve STEM education.

“Inspiring student appreciation and excitement for STEM programs and careers is critical to ensure our nation’s prosperous future,” said Linda P. Rosen, CEO of Change the Equation, in a press release from Microsoft.

“These surveys show that parents and students want a greater focus on STEM in K-12 schools and realize the importance of STEM skills not only to obtain a good job, but for the economy at large,” she added.

Microsoft has been in the forefront of the visa movement. Microsoft is also doing its best to get parents and young people interested in the benefits of “STEM” studies.

The tech giant released a national study on how to inspire the next generation of doctors, scientists, software developers and engineers back in 2011. Microsoft’s goal was (and still is) to accelerate interest in STEM careers.

“In today’s globally competitive and technologically driven economy, the jobs available to our country’s young people increasingly depend on the quality of the education and skills they acquire,” said Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel and senior vice president in the same press release.

“If our students are to compete successfully for the jobs of the future, we must better prepare them to be lifelong learners and give them a strong foundation in science, technology, engineering and math,” he added. “Our goal in fielding the surveys was to uncover ways to encourage interest in STEM among today’s youth — our future leaders.”

“Inspiring student appreciation and excitement for STEM programs and careers is critical to ensure our nation’s prosperous future.”

-Linda Rosen

The study’s findings about parent perceptions:

– Although most parents of K-12 students (93 percent) believe that STEM education should be a priority in the U.S., only half (49 percent) agreed that it actually is a top priority for this country.

– Parents who feel STEM should be a priority said they feel this way because they want to ensure the U.S. remains competitive in the global marketplace (53 percent) and to produce the next generation of innovators (51 percent); fewer said it’s to enable students to have well-paying (36 percent) or fulfilling careers (30 percent).

– Even though many parents (50 percent) would like to see their children pursue a STEM career, only 24 percent are extremely willing to spend extra money helping their children be successful in their math and science classes.

Student Perceptions

– Nearly four in five STEM college students said they decided to study STEM in high school or earlier (78 percent). One in five (21 percent) decided in middle school or earlier.

– More than half (57 percent) of STEM college students said that before going to college, a teacher or class got them interested in STEM (20 percent).

– This is especially true of female students (68 percent versus 51 percent of males) who chose “a teacher or class” as the top factor that sparked their interest.

Student preparedness:

– Only one in five STEM college students felt that their K–12 education prepared them extremely well for their college courses in STEM.

– Students who felt less prepared for STEM college courses said that offering more STEM courses and having better or more challenging courses would have helped to better prepare them — and for students who felt extremely or very well-prepared, it was the challenging, college prep courses that helped to prepare them.

– Females in STEM were more likely than males to say they were extremely/very or well-prepared (64 percent versus 49 percent) by their K–12 education, and females were slightly more likely than their male counterparts to say that preparing students for STEM should be a top priority in K–12 schools (92 percent vs. 84 percent).

Motivation:

Based on the college student survey findings, the motivation to pursue STEM studies did not originate from their parents telling them to select that subject area or even because they know the U.S. is in need of STEM graduates.

– Rather, students who select a STEM path indicated they do so to secure their own futures.

– 68 percent said they want a good salary.

– 66 percent said it’s the job potential.

– 68 percent said they find their degree program subjects intellectually stimulating and challenging.

Gender differences:

– Male students were more likely to pursue STEM because they have always enjoyed playing with games and toys, reading books, and participating in clubs focused on their chosen subject areas (51 percent versus 35 percent of females).

– Female students were more likely to say they chose STEM to make a difference (49 percent versus 34 percent of males).

Only one in five STEM college students felt that their K–12 education prepared them extremely well for their college courses in STEM.

Microsoft Support of STEM Education in K–12

To help get kids excited about technology and gaming, Microsoft Research developed the Kodu, a free game-design tool that provides an end-to-end creative environment for designing, building and playing one’s own new games.

To engage female students in particular on STEM learning, the DigiGirlz program gives high-school girls the opportunity to learn about careers in technology, participate in hands-on computer and technology workshops, and connect with Microsoft employees.

DigiGirlz High Tech Camps are offered several times a year in many cities across the U.S. The camp program was established in 2000 and continues to grow and evolve.

Microsoft Imagine Cup is the world’s premier technology competition for students ages 16 and up and honors student innovations that address global problems, such as accessibility in education, poverty, maternal health and environmental sustainability. In 2011, more than 350,000 students from 183 countries registered for the competition.

And to support STEM at a local level, Microsoft partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Boeing Company and other local companies to create Washington STEM, a nonprofit focused on improving STEM teaching and learning in Washington state.

The organization launched in March 2011 with $2.4 million in inaugural grants to teachers and education nonprofits across the state to help ensure all Washington students have the strong STEM foundation needed to succeed in today’s knowledge-driven economy. Microsoft also committed a $6 million investment to support Washington STEM over a three-year period.

“Our goal is nothing less than an excellent STEM education for every child in every corner of our state,” said Julia Novy-Hildesley, CEO of Washington STEM.

“While Washington ranks fourth in technology-based corporations, we rank 46th in STEM graduates,” she lamented. “We need to work together to infuse the innovation and invention that drives our economy into excellent and effective STEM teaching and learning for our kids.”

Methodology: The surveys were conducted online within the United States in May 2011 by Harris Interactive on behalf of Waggener Edstrom Worldwide and Microsoft among 1,074 parents of children ages 17 years or younger, 854 of whom are parents of K-12 students, and 500 U.S. undergraduate college students, ages 18–24, who are currently pursuing a STEM degree.

Kudos to Microsoft and the other tech firms and people who are involved. Let’s hope the movement gets some traction.

My sense: Unless parents wake up and encourage their youngsters early in life to focus on education, this nation is doomed to more mediocrity.

From the Coach’s Corner, more on education and technology:

Seattle Tech Recruiter Provides Career Advice, Makes Prediction — As technology companies watch the debate in Congress on visas, one fact remains: They need skilled workers. Amid the debate, a top Seattle tech recruiter answers questions – from career advice to a prediction on future trends.

Is Higher Education Doing the Job to Prepare Grads for the Workforce? — A disturbing headline caught my eye — “US higher education failing to focus on basic skills.” 

Study: Unemployment Stems Partly from Deficient Worker Skills, Education One in six Americans lives in poverty, according to the Census Bureau in 2011. However, in this knowledge-technology era, millions of American workers would be employed, if they kept in mind two adages. 

Going to College to Improve Your Job Prospects? Make the Right Choices — Whether you’re fresh out of high school or you’ve launched a career, a college degree will improve your job prospects. If you’re considering more education, however, you need to ask yourself key questions. 

“We’ve arranged a civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology.”

-Carl Sagan 

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Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.

Photo courtesy of imagerymajestic at www.freedigitalphotos.net

Seattle business consultant Terry Corbell provides high-performance management services and strategies.