The Karen and Charles Phillips Charitable Organization strives to make a positive impact on the world through various means, which include offering crucial support to the leading STEM professionals of tomorrow. In addition to providing financial assistance to students pursuing engineering degrees, the nonprofit is a dedicated supporter of the East Harlem Tutorial Program, which provides ample opportunities for students to explore subjects such as science, math, engineering, and technology.
One of the best ways to encourage students’ interest in STEM is to help them see it for what it is: a broad, diverse group of fields where the emphasis is often on learning and discovery rather than on finding the “right” answer; where students engage in hands-on activities to solve real-world problems; and where those with varying skills and interests can find a place to excel. Unfortunately, a number of common misconceptions lead students to believe that they are unlikely to enjoy or succeed in the STEM fields. Students who believe that they simply aren’t suited to STEM could be missing out on the opportunity to discover new interests, enrich their education, and pave the way for lucrative and impactful careers. This is why parents, educators, and society at large must make an active effort to clear up the following widespread myths about STEM:
Myth #1: You need to be a straight-A student to succeed in STEM fields.
The Reality: STEM does not demand genius or perfection. In fact, failure is often one of the most valuable tools that a STEM student or professional can draw on to inspire future success. Mistakes provide an opportunity to recognize our weaknesses and create new and improved strategies based on the information that we’ve gained. Just as a failed experiment gives scientists new insight into variables, a missed question or a poor grade on a test can help students to discover those areas that they may need to focus on in order to further their understanding.
It is important for students to realize that even the most influential teachers and STEM professionals have experienced challenges on the road to their current positions. Sharing how informed trial and error is important to the scientific process—and to one’s broader goals and endeavors—can help to dispel the myth that STEM subjects are only for the “smartest” students. These lessons can offer students a more realistic perspective on academic success, instilling them with the confidence to learn from their mistakes and move forward.
Myth #2: STEM is all about multiple-choice tests.
The Reality: While students often perceive subjects such as math and science as rigorous, information-heavy fields that require incredible feats of memorization and reading comprehension, this doesn’t paint a full picture of what STEM studies often entail. While the content in a student’s textbook is undoubtedly necessary to the overall learning process, in STEM the most effective learning experiences often occur outside of the traditional academic framework.
Educators are increasingly incorporating engaging, hands-on projects into the STEM curriculum, seizing the opportunity to illustrate concepts in a new way while encouraging students to become excited about both the material itself and their own problem-solving abilities. In addition to traditional science experiments that illustrate concepts such as the phases of matter, magnetism, or object density, hands-on STEM projects run the full gamut of subject areas. A teacher might enhance a lesson on botany or geology with a nature walk or outdoor gardening project. A unit on coding might end with students using what they’ve learned to create their own websites or software applications, while those studying engineering and technology might have an opportunity to build and test a model bridge, take apart and reconstruct a computer, or even build their own robot.
STEM classes don’t merely teach students to regurgitate information from a textbook. Through hands-on activities that comprise a large portion of effective STEM curriculums, students learn the scientific method; the value of intelligent risk-taking; and critical social skills such as communication, collaboration, and conflict resolution.
Myth #3: STEM isn’t creative.
The Reality: The false assumption that STEM classes consist mainly of tests has fueled the additional misconception that STEM topics do not require or inspire creativity. This is simply not true. Innovation and creative problem solving are at the heart of science, math, engineering, and technology, and as students encounter new topics in these subject areas, they learn to synthesize technical knowledge with critical thinking to overcome challenges. Students excel in STEM when they learn to ask insightful questions, form their own theories, and think outside the box. These skills are hallmarks of creativity and will only grow as students discover more about the world around them.
Myth #4: Everyone who studies STEM becomes a scientist.
The Reality: The knowledge and creativity that students gain from studies in STEM are applicable to a wide range of careers that extend far beyond traditional science-based occupations such as research science or medicine. Many STEM topics integrate with and build upon one another, and as we increasingly rely upon science, technology, and engineering to solve global challenges, STEM professionals offer skill sets that can enhance operations in a wide variety of sectors. While these jobs might not immediately spring to mind at the mention of STEM, some of the most lucrative STEM careers include financial analysis and advisory; information security and web development; environmental engineering; and corporate research analysis. Other unique fields welcoming STEM-savvy applicants include cartography, statistics, product management, and 3D modeling. With a STEM education, you could help create accurate and updated mobile GPS applications, provide in-depth analysis for a leading sports network, oversee engineering projects for one of the world’s largest social media networks, or even create realistic environments for the latest hit video game. The possibilities are endless.