What is STEM?

STEM, an acronym, stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. The acronym was arguably first coined in late nineties by a collective group of policy makers at US National Science Foundation (NSF). NSF issues guideline from time to time as to what programs could be tagged as STEM.

The US Homeland Security has its own functional definition created specifically for immigration purposes. STEM definition is linked to immigration as international students enrolled in STEM designated-degree programs qualify for an extended optional practical training (OPT). The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement lists disciplines including 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, neuro-biology, bio-mechanics, bioinformatics, acoustical engineering, geographic information systems, atmospheric sciences, educational/instructional technology, software engineering, and educational research*.

The rationale behind STEM is purely economical and nothing to do with quality of education. Demand and supply of labor skilled in technology and innovation that are transformational to the economy has mandated education system to place emphasis on STEM. You may call it foresight or building competitiveness. Most developed nations are seeing an increased demand for labor force that is capable of servicing technology behind production rather than mere assembly line workers.

Lake Area Technical Institute (LATI), a community college in South Dakota, has a large Robotics and electronics lab and churns out associate degree holders who can service the robots that perform in assembly line rather than the ones who can assemble by themselves. The demand for labor has shifted from those who can assemble to those who can operate & maintain the robots that can assemble. New method of production requires new skill sets. There is nothing wrong in viewing STEM as an extension of this idea but perhaps in a grand scale. Besides automated manufacturing, other areas require newly skilled labor force include construction, financial services, geo-spatial technology, homeland security, Information Technology, Transportation, Aerospace, Biotechnology, energy, healthcare, hospitality, and retail.

Same forces of demand and supply that sowed the seeds for STEM also result in better paying jobs, more guest workers (H1B visa holders). As STEM education catches up in USA, demand for foreign guest workers (H1B visa holders) is expected to fall. As for now, those aspiring to be guest worker in USA (on H1B visa) can expect a higher chances of landing a job in US at least for a decade from now.