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Promoting STEM to School Kids

Studies indicate students lose interest in STEM subjects before reaching middle school, so colleges are sending their STEM students to elementary schools to stoke interest.  

| BY Kent McDill

Schools and youth organizations all over the country are trying to sell young school children on the appeal of taking classes in academic pursuits that have an image problem.

 Operating with the acronym STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), school administrators at both the high school and college level are promoting science-based classes to children of all ages, and there is a particular push to interest girls in the subjects.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average wage for all STEM jobs was almost $80,000 in 2013, 71 percent higher than the average wage for all jobs. The Department of Commerce reports that STEM jobs are forecast to expand 1.7 times faster than non-STEM jobs by 2018.

U.S. News reports on the students at Glenbard West High School in Glen Ellyn, Ill., which started a program called Project Innovation – Project I for short – to introduce students at nearby Hadley Junior High School (which most Glenbard West students attended) to the innovative classes available to them in STEM subjects when they get to the next level of education.

Last year, Project I invited representatives from area businesses and research firms to talk to the Hadley students about their work. Representatives from FermiLab, Google, the University of Chicago Biomedical Research Department and the Northwestern University School of Medicine were among the dozens of professionals speaking to 340 junior high students.

“At the end of the day, what Project I is trying to do is help students understand the diversity of careers that are available to them,’’ said Northwestern University assistant professor Dr. James Elliott, one of the conference speakers. “It opens up their minds to what’s available, and helps them see at an early age what day-to-day life looks like for one of these individuals, and how did they get there.”

Most studies indicate that students lose an interest in STEM topics well before they get to junior or middle high school, which is why some programs are going to the schools directly to introduce STEM topics to young children.

Furthermore, the significant lack of gender diversity in STEM studies and STEM professions is producing special programs to engage young girls in scientific pursuits.

According to the Big Ten Network’s LiveBIG web series, the University of Iowa Health Care department has created a Girls Go STEM program, in which college students engaged in STEM programs engage with children as young as preschool to show all of them (with a focus on the girls) the interesting developments they can study when they get older.

“The younger you can get kids excited about STEM, the more likely they are to continue on with it,’’ said Jackie Kleppe Williams, manager of community and STEM education programs for the University of Iowa Health Care.

The University of Iowa program includes mini-medical schools for middle school girls, inviting doctors and nurses to explain the academic path they took to get to where they are and to show some of the actual work they do. A recent event showed a middle school class from Davenport, Iowa, what a minimally invasive surgical procedure looks like.

The National Education Association ( offers dozens of special programs for STEM introduction and development, beginning with kindergarten classes.

4-H, a youth-development organization that has been in existence for 115 years, has joined with a satellite Internet service provider HughesNet to start a program called 4-H Grown, an interactive campaign to introduce STEM learning experiences to students across the country.

"In our first year of partnership, National 4-H Council and HughesNet helped thousands of young people experience the excitement of STEM, [and] our new 2015 program will engage even more young people and expand our reach to 4-H alumni to show STEM can be rewarding and fun," said Jennifer Sirangelo, president and CEO, National 4-H Council.

About the Author

Kent McDill

Kent McDill is a staff writer for Millionaire Corner. McDill spent 30 years as a sports writer, working for United Press International and the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill. From 1988-1999, he covered the Chicago Bulls for the Daily Herald, traveling with them every day through the nine-month season. He also covered the Bulls for UPI from 1985-88, and currently covers the team for He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title “100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die’, published by Triumph Books. In August 2013, his new book “100 Things Bears Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die” gets published.

In 2008, he resigned from the Herald and became a freelance writer. The Herald hired him to write business features and speeches for the Daily Herald Business Conferences and Awards presentations.

McDill also writes a monthly parenting column for the Herald’s Suburban Parent magazine.

McDill is the father of four children, and an active fan of soccer, Jimmy  Buffett and all things Disney.