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Guest perspective: STEM crises
February 17, 2014, 05:00 AM By Robert Baker

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. There has been a great deal of coverage recently on the poor performance of our students in math and science; “the STEM Crisis.”

Scientists, technicians, engineers, and mathematicians have IQs in the range of 94-103 (technicians) and 114 (life sciences) to 133 (physics and astronomy).

This places scientists, engineers and mathematicians approximately in the range of 18 percent to 1 percent of the IQ distribution. So, only about 17 percent of students have the ability to succeed as scientists, engineers or mathematicians. Technicians IQ range from 94-103, so a career as a technician is open to many more people.

Math skills are obviously critical to anyone contemplating a career in mathematics. Mathematics is the language of physics. Any high school student who aspires to a career in math or physics should be excellent in math. And there are other careers (economics, engineering, operations research and actuarial science where math skills are important) but somewhat less so then math or physics. In 2012, STEM employed just 6 percent of the total workforce. So, about 11 percent of the workforce could have a career in STEM but choose not to.

The careers of economics, humanities and art, banking and finance, religion and theory, history, library and archival sciences, architecture, social science, agriculture, sociology and business, orthodontist, podiatrist, attorney, pharmacist, commercial airline pilot, financial planner, optometrist, economist, school principal, physician assistant and veterinarian also pull from this same 17 percent of students.

If you look at the most popular non-STEM majors among the nine UC campuses, they are agricultural business and management, anatomy, art film/video, business, communications studies, criminology, economics, English, environmental design, global studies, history, human relations, interdisciplinary studies, international relations, legal studies, liberal arts and sciences, management science, political science, psychology and sociology.

And the skills required are for these majors are soft skills, e.g., analytical, communication, creative, critical thinking, global knowledge, interpersonal relations, language, leadership, project /program management, motivating people, organization, partnerships, problem-solving, public presentation, relationships, research, spoken communication, teamwork, time management, writing and reading.

It is true that people in non-STEM careers earn about 26 percent less than those in STEM; $65,285 and $90,508 respectively. While this might not have much effect on the car you drive, it does make a considerable difference in where you can live and how much house you can afford. These salaries will buy a house of $561,000 and $920,000 in Danville and Orinda respectively. Orinda is certainly a lovely community, but there is nothing wrong with Danville.

Before we completely revamp our school system to produce an army of scientists, engineers and mathematicians, we should consider what our world would be like without humanities and art, banking and finance, law and medicine.

To quote former Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare John W. Gardner, “The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy: neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.”

Although I studied math through differential equations, I had successful careers in IT and marketing without using any more than basic algebra. If a student is interested in science but not particularly good at math, consider a career in botany, ethnobiology, medicine, parasitology, pathology, physiology, psychobiology, virology, ethology, entomology, ichthyology, mammalogy or primatology where average math skills are fine.

Lastly, one of my wise tennis playing buddies made the statement “Find something you truly love doing, that way you will never feel like you are going to work.”

Robert Baker is a 35-year resident of San Mateo County. He is a retired marketing manager from Sony.



Tags: percent, science, career, skills, engineers, physics,

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