Careers in STEM: Creating Pathways for All Learners
By Jacie Maslyk
When I was in second grade, we had a project where we shared what we wanted to be when we grew up. I remember having some very diverse interests and really didn’t know which career path was right for me (not to mention, I was only 7!) I recall wanting to be a doctor. I was fascinated by science at an early age and wanted to do something to help people. I was also very interested in photography, mostly because that was a hobby of my mom’s and I enjoyed watching her take pictures. The idea of capturing peaceful images in nature or vibrant shots of color and light intrigued me. Reflecting on that memory, it’s funny how those childhood career interests are still very present in my interests today. As an advocate for STEM education, I also love pursuing my creative passions as well.
There has been a recent emphasis in the field of education regarding the importance of career readiness and beginning those conversations with students at an early age. Preparing our students for college, career, and beyond incorporates many facets of learning. The pathway to career readiness may include exposure to potential jobs, connecting with experts in those fields, and learning about what those jobs entail.
As educators, we need to support our students in this exploration, but we also need to prepare ourselves. Creating career pathways for all learners is an ongoing process that requires a collaborative effort from teachers, counselors, school leaders, and parents. With STEM career fields expanding each day, there are lots of ways we can share these opportunities with our students.
What can STEM career exploration look like in schools?
STEM careers are in demand. It is a field that continues to evolve as technology changes. Consider the fact that just ten years ago jobs in drone technology, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence hardly existed. Now careers in digital animation, app development, and telemedicine are viable options for students graduating from our K-12 institutions. Who knows what the next ten to twenty years will hold in terms of future job possibilities?
We need to give students access to careers in the future by introducing them to possible fields and equipping them with the skills to be effective. In the classroom, we need to design learning experiences that will prepare students for careers that don’t even exist yet by fostering skills like communication, critical thinking, and collaboration while also developing student creativity and citizenship.
If we want to expose students to the potential careers of the future, then we need to build the capacity of our teachers. As they design instruction each day, teachers need to know what careers might be available to their students. They also need to build dispositions within their students that will help to prepare them for the demands of future jobs.
One way this can happen is through “Teacher in the Workplace” programs (check out Pennsylvania’s grant to support this program.) where educators can spend time in local businesses and job sites. By connecting directly with employers, teachers can learn firsthand about the skills and industry trends that will enhance their classroom instruction. This is one step towards bridging the gap between the classroom and industry.
So imagine a group of teachers spending the day visiting a local manufacturing site where the focus is on flooring. This company houses a research and development team that are constantly looking for more efficient materials and more effective processes to keep their company on top. The site also has a lab where chemists study the polymers used in their flooring solutions. Down the hall is the factory where skilled workers are creating different flooring surfaces, packing, and shipping these out to customers across the globe. The K-12 teachers who visit this site are astounded by all that goes on within this organization. They see first-hand the skills and knowledge that each department demands. They also get the opportunity to talk with employees and leaders of the organization to learn more about what they are looking for in their future employees.
These types of site visits can be powerful for teachers, as they learn about a variety of STEM jobs that are available to their students. They begin to develop an understanding of just what they are preparing their students for. Without this opportunity, teachers could assume what lies ahead for their students, but this program allows them to experience it for themselves.
The only way that learners are going to discover potential career paths is if we connect them to fields they may be interested in. I was fortunate to have a mom who shared her passions with me and nurtured my interests in a variety of career paths. Parents can provide important connections for learners to explore career options. Invite parents into the classroom to share their STEM careers or interests. As role models in the community, parents can provide insight into potential careers for students as early as kindergarten.
STEM careers can span so many fields. From the medical fields to manufacturing and art to artificial intelligence. We can create opportunities for students to connect with individuals in those fields through our classroom connections. Through field trips, videos, and online resources like those shared in Defined Learning’s online library of resources, educators can share a variety of career connections with students as they uncover potential pathways to STEM learning.
The learners in your classroom will have career opportunities that we can’t even imagine today. We can prepare them by equipping our teachers with career readiness skills while also creating connected learning opportunities for our students. For more ideas on career exploration in the early grades, take a look at this post.
About the Author:
Dr. Jacie Maslyk is an Assistant Superintendent focusing on curriculum, instruction, and professional learning. She has served in public school as a classroom teacher, reading specialist, elementary principal, and Director of Elementary Education over the last 22 years. She is passionate about STEM education and is the author of STEAM Makers: Fostering Creativity and Innovation in the Elementary Classroom. You can contact Jacie through her website at steam-makers.com.