The growth rate of STEM jobs is more than double that for other jobs in Wisconsin. A Georgetown University study predicts that nearly 160,000 Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM)-related jobs will be created in the state by 2018.
While organizations throughout Wisconsin promote STEM education, K-12, higher education, government and the public and private sectors need to work together to increase the quantity, quality and diversity of proficient workers to fill these jobs of the future.
“Wisconsin has always had a very forward-thinking, tremendous educational system. School districts across the state recognize that STEM careers are driving the future economy and no matter what career path students take, STEM is going to impact them one way or another,” said Joseph Miotke, attorney at Milwaukee-based DeWitt Ross & Stevens S.C. and statewide leadership chair for Project Lead the Way Wisconsin. “Wisconsin has been more proactive than a lot of other states, in my opinion, and has been willing to take on this challenge.”
PLTW is one of the largest science, technology, engineering and math K-12 educational programs in the U.S. In Wisconsin, PLTW is leading STEM initiatives, having served more than 500,000 students in more than 500 programs throughout the state, Miotke said.
PLTW provides students access to real-world, applied learning experiences. The programs are designed to be plug-and-play in a school’s traditional curriculum and help students develop in-demand skills like problem solving, critical and creative thinking, collaboration and communication.
In Wisconsin, PLTW plans to make its programs even more available, particularly in underserved areas of the state, Miotke said.
Miotke is quick to point out that Project Lead the Way is not the only program in Wisconsin tackling STEM education head on. PLTW often works in conjunction with other programs like First Robotics, Rube Goldberg and The Einstein Project, to name a few.
“There are several incredibly wonderful programs in the state, each with their own strengths that fill gaps created by others,” Miotke said. “By design, none of these are to the exclusion of others – it’s about lifting and promoting students to garner interest in STEM programs and ultimately, STEM careers.”
Miotke believes the drive to promote STEM programs to young learners has never been more important. Studies show students, particularly young girls, self-select whether STEM is for them as early as third grade.
“Reaching children early is critical to the success of our future workforce,” Miotke said. “Everybody learns differently, and in some instances traditional learning environments might turn off students who could turn out to be extraordinary engineers or medical scientists or computer programmers. That is the tragedy – because that student didn’t connect with a science class or a math class in first or second grade. That’s why programs like PLTW and others who reach children in a fun, interactive way are so important.”