Microsoft Corp. recently announced the results of two national surveys conducted by Harris Interactive that looked at how to inspire the next generation of Doctors, Scientists, Software Developers and Engineers. One survey looked at college students who are currently pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) while the second looked at parents of K-12 students.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor the U.S. will see over 1.2 million STEM job positions open up by 2018 yet a serious shortage of qualified college graduates to fill them. The goal of the goal of both surveys was to look at what ahs inspired students to pursue these paths and examine ways that more students could be inspired.

"In today's globally competitive and technologically driven economy, the jobs available to our country's young people increasingly depend on the quality of the education and skills they acquire," said Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel and senior vice president. "If our students are to compete successfully for the jobs of the future, we must better prepare them to be lifelong learners and give them a strong foundation in science, technology, engineering and math. Our goal in fielding the surveys was to uncover ways to encourage interest in STEM among today's youth -- our future leaders."

According to the press release some of the key findings were as follows:

Parent Perceptions

  • Parents were asked about their perceptions of STEM education in K-12, and the survey found broad agreement that there is room for improvement.
  • Although most parents of K-12 students (93 percent) believe that STEM education should be a priority in the U.S., only half (49 percent) agreed that it actually is a top priority for this country.
  • Parents who feel STEM should be a priority said they feel this way because they want to ensure the U.S. remains competitive in the global marketplace (53 percent) and to produce the next generation of innovators (51 percent); fewer said it's to enable students to have well-paying (36 percent) or fulfilling careers (30 percent).
  • Even though many parents (50 percent) would like to see their children pursue a STEM career, only 24 percent are extremely willing to spend extra money helping their children be successful in their math and science classes.

Student Perceptions

  • College students pursuing a STEM degree were asked to rate how well their K-12 education prepared them for their college courses in STEM, and why they chose to pursue a STEM academic path.


Importance of K-12 education:

For many, the decision to study STEM starts before college.

  • Nearly four in five STEM college students said they decided to study STEM in high school or earlier (78 percent). One in five (21 percent) decided in middle school or earlier.
  • More than half (57 percent) of STEM college students said that before going to college, a teacher or class got them interested in STEM (20 percent).
  • This is especially true of female students (68 percent versus 51 percent of males) who chose "a teacher or class" as the top factor that sparked their interest.

Preparedness:

  • Only one in five STEM college students felt that their K-12 education prepared them extremely well for their college courses in STEM.
  • Students who felt less prepared for STEM college courses said that offering more STEM courses and having better or more challenging courses would have helped to better prepare them -- and for students who felt extremely or very well-prepared, it was the challenging, college prep courses that helped to prepare them.
  • Females in STEM were more likely than males to say they were extremely/very or well-prepared (64 percent versus 49 percent) by their K-12 education, and females were slightly more likely than their male counterparts to say that preparing students for STEM should be a top priority in K-12 schools (92 percent vs. 84 percent).

Motivation:

  • Based on the college student survey findings, the motivation to pursue STEM studies did not originate from their parents telling them to select that subject area or even because they know the U.S. is in need of STEM graduates.


Rather, students who select a STEM path indicated they do so to secure their own futures.

  • 68 percent said they want a good salary.
  • 66 percent said it's the job potential.
  • 68 percent said they find their degree program subjects intellectually stimulating and challenging.

Gender differences:
The inspiration for choosing STEM varied quite a bit between males and females.

  • Male students were more likely to pursue STEM because they have always enjoyed playing with games and toys, reading books, and participating in clubs focused on their chosen subject areas (51 percent versus 35 percent of females).
  • Female students were more likely to say they chose STEM to make a difference (49 percent versus 34 percent of males).

"Inspiring student appreciation and excitement for STEM programs and careers is critical to ensure our nation's prosperous future," said Linda P. Rosen, CEO, Change the Equation. "These surveys show that parents and students want a greater focus on STEM in K-12 schools and realize the importance of STEM skills not only to obtain a good job, but for the economy at large."

Those these results are not exactly news to those of us try to push through the gender gap in STEM careers it’s nice to see Microsoft taking such an active interest in the cause. Among other programs put together by Microsoft there is the amazing program, DigiGirlz that offers high school girls the chance to get hands on experience computer and technology experience through various workshops. These workshops happen at high school across the nation all year long. Do you see schools and companies in your area taking an active interest in inspiring kids to pursue careers in STEM?

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