The STEM Education Movement—Is a Too-Narrow Focus Harming Our Future Workforce?

Science and technology are driving our economic future, and in turn, influencing the education and career paths of new college students. In the software industry, stories of young innovators who become overnight millionaires abound, leading the new generation of students to pursue STEM-based majors (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics academic disciplines). More employers want job candidates who are technologically savvy through STEM experience, even those in administrative positions. The STEM-concentrated academic arena promises to prepare students for the future ahead, and give them the best chance at landing the most lucrative, in-demand careers.

However, in their drive to stay on the cutting-edge, many students miss out on key components of a well-rounded education. A recent article in The Washington Post highlighted the need for more liberal arts training among STEM majors, and that assuming these two tracks are mutually exclusive puts college students at an unfortunate disadvantage. Instead, a more multidisciplinary education, including a healthy inclusion of liberal arts, may better prepare the future generation of true innovators.

What exactly does liberal arts training bring to a hardcore STEM major? History shows us that the truly great innovators held interests and experiences beyond science and math, providing a more well-rounded view-point. In today’s modern workforce, liberal arts helps students become critical thinkers, discerning readers, effective communicators, and better researchers. For example, scientists need intensive writing skills to articulate findings and conclusions. Engineers and architects benefit from art history and theory. Critical reading and writing teaches valuable logic and reasoning skills, and helps broaden students’ world view across all disciplines. The value of an interdisciplinary education comes from the fact that it builds on all of a student’s skills, rather than stunting important traits through a narrow-minded focus on others.

As we look toward the future of education, we should encourage STEM-driven college students to choose their coursework carefully. An intensive STEM focus may give them the knowledge base concerning their chosen field, but may not provide the skills to truly excel in a career. Employers will overlook even the brightest talent if the candidate does not possess the skills to effectively navigate a professional environment. Furthermore, as professionals, we should also remember what liberal arts experience brings to prospective candidates, and remember to give this educational background the respect it deserves.

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