STEM: How to Put Your Kid on the Fast Track to Success

February 06, 2014

Jon Whitmore

CEO at ACT, Inc, educator, director, author, speaker, and former university president

President Obama said in his 2014 State of the Union address, “It’s not enough to train today’s workforce. We also have to prepare tomorrow’s workforce, by guaranteeing every child access to a world-class education.” But how do you make sure your sons, daughters and grandchildren succeed?

STEM is a big part of the answer. Consider: On the last day of November 2013, there were 4 million open jobs in the American economy, and more than 75 percent of the top 25 jobs for 2014 were in “STEM” (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields. There are nearly thirty times as many science and engineering workers than there were almost 50 years ago. Almost 90 percent of Fortune 1000 companies report “fierce” competition to fill jobs requiring four-year degrees in STEM-related fields.

Where does America find and educate enough young people to fill that growing gap? At ACT, we know. How? Because students told us.

ACT tested 1.8 million members of America’s high school class of 2013. As noted in our national STEM Report, more than 150,000 of these students provided responses to questions in our “Interest Inventory” suggesting they have an inherent interest in STEM, but do not have plans to major in a STEM field in college or to pursue a STEM career.

Your daughters and sons, and their daughters and sons, are untapped potential—potential that could fuel American productivity for decades, and that could generate jobs to support these students and their families for the next 40 or 50 years.

What can you do to ensure the next generation has the skills needed to succeed?

  1. Involve every child, and inform every adult. Our research found that more females than males expressed an interest in STEM,yet 75 percent of our scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and technologists are male. We also saw that 45 percent of African American and 48 percent of Hispanic students had an interest in STEM majors or occupations, yet 80 percent of our scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and technologists are white. We need to make sure all children, including girls and today’s “majority minority” toddlers, are aware of their STEM-related opportunities.
  2. Start early and stick with it. The American Institutes for Research recommends STEM instruction that is “authentic, engaging, relevant, and integrated,” and finds “early exposure to math and science can help keep students on track through middle and high school.”
  3. Students must be aware, engaged and able. Our STEM report reveals that while we saw high interest in STEM, we also saw too few students graduating from high school ready for college and career success, especially in math and science. Awareness and engagement are essential, but so is achievement.

An alignment of awareness, engagement and achievement pays dividends not only on the job, but also in postsecondary education. ACT research has found that a surprising number of students plan to pursue college majors and careers that don’t match their interests. These mismatches can be expensive, in both time and money. Fortunately, research also shows that students whose majors are aligned with their interests are more likely to stick with their majors, stay in school, and graduate from college in a timely manner.

As leaders and parents, we need to convince more of the 150,000 high school graduates with STEM interests to follow the STEM dream. We need to encourage younger children to develop an interest in STEM-related occupations, and we need to help people of all ages, from all walks of life, get started on careers that could make a difference in their lives and to our country as a whole.

The students are there. They’ve told ACT who they are. We know them—and where to find them. Perhaps most importantly, we know STEM-ready students will make a crucial difference in ensuring American global competitiveness for generations to come.

As a parent or guardian, you can help your own child prepare for an exciting future. Get engaged.


Jon Whitmore is the CEO of ACT, Inc. ACT’s services include a broad range of assessments encompassing all levels of the educational continuum and a growing array of assessment systems supportive of economic and workforce development worldwide. Before joining ACT, Jon was the president of San Jose State University and Texas Tech University, provost of the University of Iowa, and a professor of theatre at numerous universities.

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