Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), previously Science, Math, Engineering, and Technology (SMET), is a term used to group together these academic disciplines.[1] This term is typically used when addressing education policy and curriculum choices in schools to improve competitiveness in science and technology development. It has implications for workforce development, national security concerns and immigration policy.[1]

The acronym arose in common use shortly after an interagency meeting science education held at the US National Science Foundation chaired by the then NSF director Rita Colwell.[2] A director from the Office of Science division of Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists, Peter Faletra, suggested the change from the older acronym METS to STEM. Colwell, expressing some dislike for the older acronym, responded by suggesting NSF to institute the change. One of the first NSF projects to use the acronym was STEMTEC, the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Teacher Education Collaborative at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, which was funded in 1998.[3]

Other variations

  • STM (Scientific, Technical, and Mathematics;[4] or Science, Technology, and Medicine; or Scientific, Technical, and Medical)
  • eSTEM (environmental STEM) [5][6]
  • iSTEM (invigorating Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics); identifies new ways to teach STEM-related fields.
  • STEMLE (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Law and Economics); identifies subjects focused on fields such as applied social sciences and anthropology, regulation, cybernetics, machine learning, social systems, computational economics and computational social sciences.
  • STEMS^2 (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Social Sciences and Sense of Place); integrates STEM with social sciences and sense of place.
  • METALS (STEAM + Logic), introduced by Su Su at Teachers College, Columbia University.[citation needed]
  • STREM (Science, Technology, Robotics, Engineering, and Mathematics); adds robotics as a field.
  • STREM (Science, Technology, Robotics, Engineering, and Multimedia); adds robotics as a field and replaces mathematics with media.
  • STREAM (Science, Technology, Robotics, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics); adds robotics and arts as fields.
  • STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics)[7]
  • STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Applied Mathematics); more focus on applied mathematics[8]
  • GEMS (Girls in Engineering, Math, and Science); used for programs to encourage women to enter these fields.[9][10]
  • STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Medicine)
  • AMSEE (Applied Math, Science, Engineering, and Entrepreneurship)
  • THAMES (Technology, Hands-On, Art, Mathematics, Engineering, Science)

Geographic distribution

United States

In the United States, the acronym began to be used in education and immigration debates in initiatives to begin to address the perceived lack of qualified candidates for high-tech jobs. It also addresses concern that the subjects are often taught in isolation, instead of as an integrated curriculum.[11] Maintaining a citizenry that is well versed in the STEM fields is a key portion of the public education agenda of the United States.[12] The acronym has been widely used in the immigration debate regarding access to United States work visas for immigrants who are skilled in these fields. This usage of the term is accredited to the State of Texas. It has also become commonplace in education discussions as a reference to the shortage of skilled workers and inadequate education in these areas.[13] The term tends not to refer to the non-professional and less visible sectors of the fields, such as electronics assembly line work.

National Science Foundation

Many organizations in the United States follow the guidelines of the National Science Foundation on what constitutes a STEM field. The NSF uses a broader definition of STEM subjects that includes subjects in the fields of chemistry, computer and information technology science, engineering, geosciences, life sciences, mathematical sciences, physics and astronomy, social sciences (anthropology, economics, psychology and sociology), and STEM education and learning research.[1][14] Eligibility for scholarship programs such as the CSM STEM Scholars Program use the NSF definition.[15]

The NSF is the only American federal agency whose mission includes support for all fields of fundamental science and engineering, except for medical sciences.[16] Its disciplinary program areas include scholarships, grants, fellowships in fields such as biological sciences, computer and information science and engineering, education and human resources, engineering, environmental research and education, geosciences, international science and engineering, mathematical and physical sciences, social, behavioral and economic sciences, cyberinfrastructure, and polar programs.[14]

Immigration policy

Although many organizations in the United States follow the guidelines of the National Science Foundation on what constitutes a STEM field, the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has its own functional definition used for immigration policy.[17] In 2012, DHS or ICE announced an expanded list of STEM designated-degree programs that qualify eligible graduates on student visas for an optional practical training (OPT) extension. Under the OPT program, international students who graduate from colleges and universities in the United States are able to remain in the country and receive training through work experience for up to 12 months. Students who graduate from a designated STEM degree program can remain for an additional 17 months on an OPT STEM extension.[18][19]

STEM-eligible degrees in US immigration

An exhaustive list of STEM disciplines does not exist because the definition varies by organization. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement lists disciplines including[20] physics, actuarial science, chemistry, biology, mathematics, applied mathematics, statistics, computer science, computational science, psychology, biochemistry, robotics, computer engineering, electrical engineering, electronics, mechanical engineering, industrial engineering, information science, information technology, civil engineering, aerospace engineering, chemical engineering, astrophysics, astronomy, optics, nanotechnology, nuclear physics, mathematical biology, operations research, neurobiology, biomechanics, bioinformatics, acoustical engineering, geographic information systems, atmospheric sciences, educational/instructional technology, software engineering, and educational research.


By cultivating an interest in the natural and social sciences in preschool or immediately following school entry, the chances of STEM success in high school can be greatly improved. School integration can help black, Hispanic and aboriginal students catch up with Asian and white students.[21]

STEM supports broadening the study of engineering within each of the other subjects, and beginning engineering at younger grades, even elementary school. It also brings STEM education to all students rather than only the gifted programs. In his 2012 budget, President Barack Obama renamed and broadened the "Mathematics and Science Partnership (MSP)" to award block grants to states for improving teacher education in those subjects.[22]

STEM education often uses new technologies such as RepRap 3D printers to encourage interest in STEM fields.[23]

In 2006 the United States National Academies expressed their concern about the declining state of STEM education in the United States. Its Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy developed a list of 10 actions. Their top three recommendations were to:

  • Increase America's talent pool by improving K–12 science and mathematics education
  • Strengthen the skills of teachers through additional training in science, mathematics and technology
  • Enlarge the pipeline of students prepared to enter college and graduate with STEM degrees[24]

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration also has implemented programs and curricula to advance STEM education in order to replenish the pool of scientists, engineers and mathematicians who will lead space exploration in the 21st century.[24]

Individual states, such as California, have run pilot after-school STEM programs to learn what the most promising practices are and how to implement them to increase the chance of student success.[25] Another state to invest in STEM education is Florida, where Florida Polytechnic University, Florida’s first public university for engineering and technology dedicated to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), was established.[26]

Continuing STEM education has expanded to the post-secondary level through masters programs such as the University of Maryland's STEM Program[27] as well as the University of Cincinnati.[28]

Racial gap in STEM fields

In the United States, the National Science Foundation found that the average science score on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress was lower for black and Hispanic students than white, Asian, and Pacific Islanders.[29] In 2011, eleven percent of the U.S. workforce was black, while only six percent of STEM workers were black.[30] Though STEM in the U.S. has typically been dominated by white males, there have been considerable efforts to create initiatives to make STEM a more racially and gender diverse field.[31]

American Competitiveness Initiative

In the State of the Union Address on January 31, 2006, President George W. Bush announced the American Competitiveness Initiative. Bush proposed the initiative to address shortfalls in federal government support of educational development and progress at all academic levels in the STEM fields. In detail, the initiative called for significant increases in federal funding for advanced R&D programs (including a doubling of federal funding support for advanced research in the physical sciences through DOE) and an increase in U.S. higher education graduates within STEM disciplines.

The NASA Means Business competition, sponsored by the Texas Space Grant Consortium, furthers that goal. College students compete to develop promotional plans to encourage students in middle and high school to study STEM subjects and to inspire professors in STEM fields to involve their students in outreach activities that support STEM education.

The National Science Foundation has numerous programs in STEM education, including some for K–12 students such as the ITEST Program that supports The Global Challenge Award ITEST Program. STEM programs have been implemented in some Arizona schools. They implement higher cognitive skills for students and enable them to inquire and use techniques used by professionals in the STEM fields.

The STEM Academy is a national nonprofit-status organization dedicated to improving STEM literacy for all students. It represents a recognized national next-generation high-impact academic model. The practices, strategies, and programming are built upon a foundation of identified national best practices which are designed to improve under-represented minority and low-income student growth, close achievement gaps, decrease dropout rates, increase high school graduation rates and improve teacher and principal effectiveness. The STEM Academy represents a flexible use academic model that targets all schools and is for all students.[32]

Project Lead The Way (PLTW) is a leading provider of STEM education curricular programs to middle and high schools in the United States. The national nonprofit organization has over 5,200 programs in over 4,700 schools in all 50 states. Programs include a high school engineering curriculum called Pathway To Engineering, a high school biomedical sciences program, and a middle school engineering and technology program called Gateway To Technology. PLTW provides the curriculum and the teacher professional development and ongoing support to create transformational programs in schools, districts, and communities. PLTW programs have been endorsed by President Barack Obama and United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as well as various state, national, and business leaders.

STEM Education Coalition

The Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Coalition[33] works to support STEM programs for teachers and students at the U. S. Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, and other agencies that offer STEM-related programs. Activity of the STEM Coalition seems to have slowed since September 2008.


The Boy Scouts of America announced the roll out of an awards program in the spring of 2012 to promote more interest and involvement in the STEM disciplines. The NOVA and SUPERNOVA awards are available to Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts and Venturers as they complete specific requirements appropriate to their program level in each of the four main STEM program areas: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

Girl Scouts of the United States of America incorporated STEM into their program with the goal that girls will see how they can change the world through scientific discoveries as well as to teach important skills they can use throughout there life.[34] One of the ways STEM was incorporated is through leadership journeys where girls identify a problem, come up with a solution, a plan how to carry it out, then carry out the solution and afterwards communicate what she learned from it.[35] Another way is through badges which are more specific to the girl’s personal interest in categories such as naturalist, digital art, science and technology, innovation and financial literacy. Special projects hosted by sponsors, innovations, partners such as NASA, and other institutions who have partnered with Girl Scouts to connect girls to professionals and possible career fields in the STEM field they would not have been exposed to otherwise.[34]

Department of Defense programs

[36] The eCybermission is a free, web-based science, mathematics and technology competition for students in grades six through nine sponsored by the U.S. Army. Each webinar is focused on a different step of the scientific method and is presented by an experienced eCybermission CyberGuide. CyberGuides are military and civilian volunteers with a strong background in STEM and STEM education, who are able to provide valuable insight into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to students and team advisers.

STARBASE is a premier educational program, sponsored by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs. Students interact with military personnel to explore careers and make connections with the "real world." The program provides students with 20–25 hours of stimulating experiences at National Guard, Navy, Marines, Air Force Reserve and Air Force bases across the nation.

SeaPerch is an innovative underwater robotics program that trains teachers to teach their students how to build an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV) in an in-school or out-of-school setting. Students build the ROV from a kit composed of low-cost, easily accessible parts, following a curriculum that teaches basic engineering and science concepts with a marine engineering theme.


NASAStem is a program of the U.S. space agency NASA to increase diversity within its ranks, including age, disability, and gender as well as race/ethnicity.[37]


The America COMPETES Act (P.L. 110-69) became law on August 9, 2007. It is intended to increase the nation's investment in science and engineering research and in STEM education from kindergarten to graduate school and postdoctoral education. The act authorizes funding increases for the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology laboratories, and the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science over FY2008–FY2010. Robert Gabrys, Director of Education at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, articulated success as increased student achievement, early expression of student interest in STEM subjects, and student preparedness to enter the workforce.


In November 2012 the White House announcement before congressional vote on the STEM Jobs Act put President Obama in opposition to many of the Silicon Valley firms and executives who bankrolled his re-election campaign.[38] The Department of Labor identified 14 sectors that are "projected to add substantial numbers of new jobs to the economy or affect the growth of other industries or are being transformed by technology and innovation requiring new sets of skills for workers."[39] The identified sectors were as follows: advanced manufacturing, Automotive, construction, financial services, geospatial technology, homeland security, information technology, Transportation, Aerospace, Biotechnology, energy, healthcare, hospitality, and retail.

The Department of Commerce notes STEM fields careers are some of the best-paying and have the greatest potential for job growth in the early 21st century. The report also notes that STEM workers play a key role in the sustained growth and stability of the U.S. economy, and training in STEM fields generally results in higher wages, whether or not they work in a STEM field.[40]


Around the world, STEM education initiatives vary in scope, size, type, target populations and funding sources. A list of organizations that are currently engaged in STEM Education activities and outreach across Sub-Saharan Africa has emerged. The organizations range in size, scope, funding mechanisms, and mission statements. However, they are all focused on improving STEM Education in the continent.


There have been numerous programs and attempts to establish a national approach to STEM education in Australia.


Canada ranks 12th out of 16 peer countries in the percentage of its graduates who studied in STEM programs, with 21.2%, a number higher than the United States, but lower than countries such as France, Germany, and Austria. The peer country with the greatest proportion of STEM graduates, Finland, has over 30% of their university graduates coming from science, mathematics, computer science, and engineering programs.[41]

Scouts Canada

Scouts Canada has taken similar measures to their American counterpart to promote STEM fields to youth. Their STEM program began in 2015.[42]

Schulich Leader Scholarships

In 2011 Canadian entrepreneur and philanthropist Seymour Schulich established the Schulich Leader Scholarships, $100 million in $60,000 scholarships for students beginning their university education in a STEM program at 20 institutions across Canada. Each year 40 Canadian students would be selected to receive the award, two at each institution, with the goal of attracting gifted youth into the STEM fields.[43] The program also supplies STEM scholarships to five participating universities in Israel.[44]


Several European projects have promoted STEM education and careers in Europe. For instance, Scientix[45] is a European cooperation of STEM teachers, education scientists, and policymakers. The SciChallenge[46] project used a social media contest and the student-generated content to increase motivation of pre- university students for STEM education and careers.

Hong Kong

STEM education has not been promoted among the local schools in Hong Kong until recent years. In November 2015, the Education Bureau of Hong Kong released a document entitled Promotion of STEM Education,[47] which proposes the strategies and recommendations on promoting STEM education.


Turkish STEM Education Task Force (or FeTeMM—Fen Bilimleri, Teknoloji, Mühendislik ve Matematik) is a coalition of academicians and teachers who show an effort to increase the quality of education in STEM fields rather than focussing on increasing the number of STEM graduates.[48][49]


In Qatar, AL-Bairaq is an outreach program to high-school students with a curriculum that focuses on STEM, run by the Center for Advanced Materials (CAM) at Qatar University. Each year around 946 students, from about 40 high schools, participate in AL-Bairaq competitions.[50] AL-Bairaq make use of project-based learning, encourages students to solve authentic problems, and inquires them to work with each other as a team to build real solutions.[51][52] Research has so far shown positive results for the program.[53]


In Vietnam, beginning in 2012 many private education organizations has STEM education initiatives.

In 2015, the Ministry of Science and Technology and Liên minh STEM organized the first National STEM day, followed by many similar events across the country.

in 2015, Ministry of Education and Training included STEM as an area needed to be encouraged in national school year program.

In May 2017, Prime Minister signed a Directive no. 16 stating: "Dramatically change the policies, contents, education and vocational training methods to create a human resource capable of receiving new production technology trends, with a focus on promoting training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), foreign languages, information technology in general education; " and asking "Ministry of Education and Training (to): Promote the deployment of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in general education program; Pilot organize in some high schools from 2017 to 2018.


Despite significant improvements in recent decades, education is not universally available and gender inequalities persist. A major concern in many countries is not only limited numbers of girls going to school, but also limited educational pathways for those that step into the classroom. This includes, more specifically, how to address the lower participation and learning achievement of girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.[54]

Current campaigns to increase the gender balance within STEM fields include the UK's WISE[55] as well as mentoring programs, such as the Million Women Mentors initiative connecting girls and young women with STEM mentors[56] and Verizon's #InspireHerMind project.[57] The US Office of Science and Technology Policy during the Obama administration collaborated with the White House Council on Women and Girls to increase the participation of women and girls within STEM fields[58] along with the "Educate to Innovate" campaign.[59]

Women in STEM fields are often underrepresented, holding less than 25% of the jobs in the U.S.[60] and 13% in the UK (2014).[61] In the United States, studies have been conducted to explain this pattern, such as mechanisms in recruitment and hiring processes.[62] On average, women in STEM fields earn 33% more than those in non-STEM professions.[58] However, women can be found as leaders in top professions around the country. These include the U.S. Department of Defense, NASA, and the National Science Foundation (NSF).[63][64]

Though women nearly comprise half of the US workforce, they've held less than 25% of STEM jobs consistently over the last decade.[56] While 12% of women in bachelor programs will get a degree in STEM each year, only 3% continue to work within the STEM field 10 years after graduation.[56] According to the National Science Foundation, only 28% of U.S. scientists and engineers working in science and engineering occupations are women, with 6.5% Asian women, 1.6% black women, and 1.8% Hispanic women.[65] While nearly 60% of bachelor's degrees are awarded to graduating women each year, less than 20% are in computer science.[66]

A 2012 study[67] in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States showed that an implicit bias exists against hiring women for even entry-level STEM positions. This study had faculty members in university biology, chemistry, and physics departments judge applications for a laboratory manager position. These applications only differed in name (i.e., John vs. Jennifer).

A 2018 study found that while girls perform better or equal to boys in two out of three countries, in nearly all countries more girls were qualified to college-level[clarification needed] study than had enrolled. Researchers found that female enrolment to STEM subjects was relatively lower in countries with a high degree of gender equality.[68][69]

Education of girls and women in STEM

Gender differences in STEM education participation at the expense of girls are already visible in early childhood care and education (ECCE) and become more visible at higher levels of education. Girls appear to lose interest in STEM subjects with age, and lower levels of participation are already seen in advanced studies at secondary level. By higher education, women represent only 35% of all students enrolled in STEM-related fields of study. Gender differences also exist in STEM disciplines, with the lowest female enrolment observed in information, communication and technology (ICT); engineering, manufacturing and construction; and natural science, mathematics and statistics. Women leave STEM disciplines in disproportionate numbers during their higher education studies, in their transition to the world of work and even during their career cycle.[54]

Cross-national studies of learning achievement (measuring knowledge acquisition or knowledge application) from more than 120 countries and dependent territories present a complex picture. In middle- to high-income countries for which trend data are available, data gaps to girls’ disadvantage are closing, particularly in science. In addition, in countries where girls do better than boys on curriculum-based assessments, their score difference can be up to three times higher than when boys do better. There are significant regional differences, however. For example, girls outperform boys in many countries in Asia while the score difference between boys and girls in science achievement is particularly strong in the Arab States, with girls significantly outperforming boys.[54]

More countries demonstrate gender differences to boys’ advantage in mathematics achievement, with boys’ score differentials as compared to those of girls often increasing between early and late primary education. Regional differences exist also in mathematics; girls are particularly disadvantaged in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa. Differences also exist between assessments that measure learning against the curriculum-based compared to those that measure students’ ability to apply knowledge and skills to different situations. Boys performed better in two-thirds of the 70 countries measuring applied learning in math at age 15.[54]

Research on biological factors, including brain structure and development, genetics, neuroscience and hormones, shows that the gender gap in STEM is not the result of sex differences in these factors or in innate ability. Rather, findings suggest that learning is underpinned by neuroplasticity, the capacity of the brain to expand and form new connections, and that education performance, including in STEM subjects, is influenced by experience and can be improved through targeted interventions. Spatial and language skills, especially written language, are positively correlated with performance in mathematics and can be improved with practice, irrespective of sex, especially during the earlier years of life.[54]


The focus on increasing participation in STEM fields has attracted criticism. In the 2014 article "The Myth of the Science and Engineering Shortage" in The Atlantic, demographer Michael S. Teitelbaum criticized the efforts of the U.S. government to increase the number of STEM graduates, saying that, among studies on the subject, "No one has been able to find any evidence indicating current widespread labor market shortages or hiring difficulties in science and engineering occupations that require bachelor's degrees or higher", and that "Most studies report that real wages in many—but not all—science and engineering occupations have been flat or slow-growing, and unemployment as high or higher than in many comparably-skilled occupations." Teitelbaum also wrote that the then-current national fixation on increasing STEM participation paralleled previous U.S. government efforts since World War II to increase the number of scientists and engineers, all of which he stated ultimately ended up in "mass layoffs, hiring freezes, and funding cuts"; including one driven by the Space Race of the late 1950s and 1960s, which he wrote led to "a bust of serious magnitude in the 1970s."[70]

IEEE Spectrum contributing editor Robert N. Charette echoed these sentiments in the 2013 article "The STEM Crisis Is a Myth", also noting that there was a "mismatch between earning a STEM degree and having a STEM job" in the United States, with only around ¼ of STEM graduates working in STEM fields, while less than half of workers in STEM fields have a STEM degree.[71]

Economics writer Ben Casselman, in a 2014 study of post-graduation earnings for FiveThirtyEight, wrote that, based on the data, science should not be grouped with the other three STEM categories, because, while the other three generally result in high-paying jobs, "many sciences, particularly the life sciences, pay below the overall median for recent college graduates."[72]

See also


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Further reading

External links