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Science jobs abound for workers with BAs or two-year degrees

WASHINGTON—When astronaut Mae Jemison prepared for her launch into space, the chemist and physician had to test her flight suit—working with her personal flight suit technician to keep the special outfit in working order.

The bulky, orange suit helped protect Jemison during launch and re-entry and was maintained by Sharon McDougle, who Jemison said she depended on to be skilled in STEM—science, technology, engineering and math—to keep her safe.

“My life depended on her having a great degree of STEM literacy, yet she was a high school graduate,” Jemison said.

Jemison used her flight suit technician as an example of a science career that required a high school diploma and extensive training—not a doctorate in astrophysics.

“It’s really important for us to think about things in a different way,” she said at a conference Thursday about STEM education and the workforce.

She and other experts said there is still a shortage of skilled workers for a number of STEM jobs in the United States—and that most of those jobs do not require advanced degrees.

According to the Labor Department’s O*Net database, a person graduating with a two- or four-year degree in STEM can work as a lab technician, making a median salary of $42,000 a year; a computer system analyst, earning about $80,000 a year, or a marine engineer, who can make on average $88,000 annually.

A report released Oct. 22 by Bayer Material Science surveyed 150 talent recruiters from U.S. Fortune 1000 companies.

Jemison, the first female African-American astronaut and Bayer’s “Making Science Make Sense” spokeswoman, said it’s important for schools and local governments to provide students with information about STEM jobs that don’t necessarily require doctoral degrees.

Jemison has a chemical engineering degree from Stanford University and a medical degree from Cornell University. After two years in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone and Liberia, she practiced medicine in California while she took graduate engineering classes. In 1987 she was selected by NASA for the astronaut program. She flew to space in the Endeavour on an eight-day mission in 1992.

Change the Equation hosted the STEM conference with Bayer.

The survey found that 67 percent of 150 talent recruiters who responded to the survey said there are more STEM jobs being created than non-STEM jobs today at U.S. Fortune 1000 companies.

Talent recruiters said in the survey that job candidates with two- and four-year STEM degrees are “as” or “more in demand” for non-STEM jobs than candidates without the science and math background.

Jennifer McNelly, president of the Manufacturing Institute, said it’s time parents, teachers and administrators change the way they view the manufacturing industry and encourage students to think about training for trade jobs.

“We need to engage in our supply chain and offer work-based learning. We need to change how we talk about the world of work and the respect for work and what it means to do and make things,” McNelly said. “I think about how we make life-saving medicine and we make jets fly. But people don’t understand that.”

Kelly Mack, executive director of Project Kaleidoscope with the Association of American Colleges and Universities, agreed with McNelly—but added that increasing the number of students who decide to study STEM majors and stick with it will only happen once many instructors change their mindsets.

“We still have professors who pride themselves on low pass rates. For many of them, that’s a sign of good teaching,” Mack said. “We need to change the mindset from weeding out talent to cultivating talent.”

A study done by the Brookings Institution breaks down the number of STEM jobs and what education they require.

The study found that 50 percent of STEM jobs—which Brookings defines as any job that requires specialized knowledge in the four areas —do not require a bachelor’s degree. STEM jobs make up 20 percent of all U.S. jobs.

Jonathan Rothwell, associate fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, worked on the “Hidden STEM Economy” study. He said that, from 1980 to 2010, there was an increase of 4.3 million STEM jobs in the U.S. for workers with some college but no bachelor’s degree and a 10 million job increase in STEM positions at the bachelor’s degree level or higher.

Jessica Wray is a senior journalism major at Franklin College in Franklin, Ind. She may be reached at [email protected].

 

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Science jobs abound for workers with BAs or two-year degrees