Research Illuminates Region's Attitudes, Perceptions about STEM Education
Carnegie Science Center announced this morning the results of a survey conducted this summer to gauge the attitudes and perceptions about STEM education and its potential for workforce development in a 17-county region spanning southwestern Pennsylvania and adjacent areas of Ohio and West Virginia. The study, titled “WORK TO DO: THE ROLE OF STEM EDUCATION IN IMPROVING THE TRI-STATE REGION’S WORKFORCE,” was conducted by Campos, Inc., with funding from Chevron and additional support from Nova Chemicals.
“In our work at the Science Center, we consistently hear concerns from corporate leaders about having a qualified workforce for the future. Corporations need collaborative problem-solvers with excellent skills in science, technology, engineering, and math – or STEM,” said Ron Baillie, the Henry Buhl, Jr., Co-Director of Carnegie Science Center. “We launched our Chevron Center for STEM Education and Career Development three years ago to address this issue, embracing our role as convener of all stakeholders in the quest for top-quality STEM education – corporations, parents, educators, students, legislators, foundations -- as we inspire and prepare young people to meet the needs of our region and our nation. ”
“We commissioned this study to better understand the perceptions, attitudes, and concerns of corporate leaders, educators, and parents throughout the region,” said Ann Metzger, also Henry Buhl, Jr., Co-Director of the Science Center. “At the Science Center, we’re involved in discussions about STEM education every day. We wanted to know how others view the importance of STEM education, what they see as the potential benefits, what they want for their children, and what they perceive as the barriers. The results of the survey will help us communicate more effectively with various audiences across the region and develop programming and initiatives meet the needs of the region.”
Components of the survey included in-depth, 45-minute phone interviews with 47 educators (middle and high school teachers and counselors, superintendents, and Allegheny Intermediate Unit professionals) and senior-level business leaders directly involved in workforce development and hiring at regional industrial and manufacturing companies. Phone and online surveys were completed with 978 parents with one or more children in elementary, middle, or high school. Quotas were established to ensure representation by county and by urban, suburban, and rural participants. For the parent surveys, the margin of error was +/-3.1% at the 95th confidence interval level. Parents were given the following definition of STEM education: STEM education refers to rigorous instruction in science, technology, engineering and math. Often STEM courses involved hands-on learning and participating in activities in which students collaborate with other students to solve problems.
In addition, professional moderators conducted seven “family dialogues”—dinner home visits with parents and their children across the region—to discuss education and careers and to specifically assess awareness of and attitudes toward STEM education. Family Dialogues lasted approximately two hours and the researchers were invited into people’s homes in rural, urban and suburban locations. Finally, an online survey of 100 middle and high school students was conducted across the region.
Summary of Results
This study demonstrates the promise of STEM education. Educators say it is becoming more of a priority in the region, and they are excited about STEM-related job opportunities. This is especially true in rural areas. Business leaders say STEM education holds promise for closing the workforce gap of skilled workers in the region. A seminal finding of this study is that rural areas represent one of the greatest opportunities for STEM education to impact workforce development.
But there is work to do in fulfilling this promise. Awareness and understanding of STEM education among parents and students, especially the workforce connection, is low. Underlying parental attitudes align with STEM fundamentals, but there is confusion about STEM education’s form, function, and intent. Teachers identify obstacles inside and outside the classroom. Fulfilling the promise of STEM education will take time and effort.
- Many parents, educators, and business leaders believe that schools must do a better job of preparing tomorrow’s workforce. The U.S. is perceived to be far behind in math and science.
- Parents’ awareness of and understanding about STEM is low throughout the region. It is at its lowest in rural areas.
- Educators and business leaders identify key prerequisites for robust STEM education, the most important of which is making it engaging to students—collaborative, hands-on, problem-solving, and project-based.
- Parents’ underlying attitudes about education and careers align with many STEM fundamentals.
- Educators and business leaders are adamant in their opinions that STEM education is for all students.
- The current language around STEM is not resonating with parents.
- Business leaders believe that quality STEM education can help develop the next generation of collaborative problem-solvers as a way to close the regional workforce gap of skilled workers.
- Most educators say that STEM education is becoming more of a priority, but there are differences by region. Rural areas represent the greatest opportunity for STEM education related careers in new industries.
- Educators identify major obstacles to STEM education both inside and outside of school and the classroom.
“These results reinforce the need to clarify perceptions of STEM education and its importance in filling high-paying energy jobs in the region,” said Trip Oliver, manager, policy, government and public affairs, Chevron. “The jobs of today and tomorrow require the kind of problem-solving and critical thinking skills embodied in STEM education. For that reason, Chevron is committed to increasing the quality of education for all students, and to developing a technically skilled regional workforce that will help fuel economic growth.”
Read the full study at www.carnegiesciencecenter.org/worktodo
About Carnegie Science Center
Carnegie Science Center is dedicated to inspiring learning and curiosity by connecting science and technology with everyday life. By making science both relevant and fun, the Science Center’s goal is to increase science literacy in the region and motivate young people to seek careers in science and technology. One of the four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, the Science Center is Pittsburgh’s premier science exploration destination, reaching more than 700,000 people annually through its hands-on exhibits, camps, classes, and off-site education programs.
About Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh
Founded by Andrew Carnegie in 1895, Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh is a collection of four distinctive museums dedicated to exploration through art and science: Carnegie Museum of Art, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Carnegie Science Center, and The Andy Warhol Museum. Annually, the museums reach more than 1.2 million people through exhibitions, educational programs, outreach activities, and special events.
About Campos Inc
Campos Inc is a leading research & strategy firm that has been providing critical insights to businesses and organizations in our region and our nation since 1986.