How to Pursue Your Passion For STEMPosted September 20, 2021, 12:48 pm by
If you’re interested in STEM, now’s the time to plan how to further that fascination this summer. Summer programs, college classes, competitions, activities and internships all offer chances to explore a field in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and see what most sparks your enthusiasm. Because of the pandemic, most of these options have moved online.
For more information about programs, colleges and careers in STEM, check out our newly updated Your Future in STEM Guide!
Reach Out and Get Involved
Adrienne Fluitt, college guidance coordinator for BASIS Oro Valley, in Oro Valley, AZ, urges students to take the initiative to contact businesses and colleges to see what they offer. U.S. News & World Report ranked her charter school number two in Arizona and 18th nationally in its 2020 list of best high schools.
“Do you like a gaming company? See what they have there,” she says. “Almost every college has summer courses. Labs at universities will take on high school students.”
Participate in a school club dedicated to your interest, Fluitt says. If one doesn’t exist, start one. Or enter a contest to get hands-on experience.
Don’t wait to apply for summer programs, as many have deadlines early this year. Be aware some summer programs can cost thousands of dollars, beyond the reach of many students’ families. She suggests contacting the school or organization offering the program to see if they will reduce or waive the cost if you qualify.
“Most places offer some kind of financial aid,” she says. “I always tell kids that the worst they can say is no.”
Boost Skills and Career Insight
James Lewis, president and co-founder of the National Society of High School Scholars, says students interested in STEM careers should use their time during the pandemic now and during summer vacation to take online courses and get accreditation for skills.
“I would be aggressive,” he says. “Don’t let your being stuck at home stop you.”
To help refine their higher education and career focus, Lewis encourages students to test out a range of STEM experiences.
“Eighty percent don’t know (what they want to do for a career),” he says. “It’s healthy for them not to know. Once they get exposure, they can change. The more things they can try, the clearer that vision will become.”
The NSHSS is an international nonprofit based in Atlanta, Georgia. It recognizes students with high academic achievement, and helps them move forward to college and careers with scholarships, advice and support.
Pandemic’s Silver Lining
COVID pushed museums, libraries, nonprofits, tech businesses and scientific institutions to put more educational programs online, says Lindy Ibeling, communications manager at the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Take advantage of these increased opportunities.
“There’s so much more available, even if it’s for 30 minutes a day,” she says. “That is so valuable, by keeping students engaged and excited.”
The council lists online STEM programs on its website, as do other educational organizations. Some resources include:
- NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology
- Master’s in Data Science, Powered by 2U Inc.
- TeenLife has information on more than 700 STEM summer programs
If you’re interested in a challenging group project, you or your teacher could try a free trial membership with ProjectPals. This program is being sold to schools as a way to teach students computational thinking as a way to break down, analyze, research, discuss and cooperate to solve problems. While designed for school use, a group of students could independently check out the program and its library of projects, says founder and CEO Miriam Bolger.
One project looks at the sinking of the Titanic and how to prevent or limit that historic catastrophe. Individual students would be given separate tasks of researching different aspects: the ship’s construction, travel route, passengers, icebergs.
“Finally, they come up with recommendations,” she says. “Then they get together and talk about it. This is how things happen in the real world.”
Need Help? Ask
If you’re confused about which program, class or activity might best fit your interests and goals, your school can help.
“Your school counselor is your first step on resources out there – your teachers, too,” says Richard Fernandez, guidance counselor at Middlesex County Academy for Science, Mathematics and Engineering Technologies, in Edison, New Jersey. Also known as Edison Academy, U.S. News & World Report ranked the school first in New Jerseyand 33rd nationally in its 2020 list of best high schools.
Fernandez urges students to participate in extracurricular activities, such as his school’s Girls Code Club or Science Olympiad, a national competition. Being a vocational school, Edison requires students to spend at least 10 days in a workplace, and many work part-time jobs or get summer internships. While COVID safety concerns suspended most in-person internships, some employers do offer virtual experience, he says.
“If you have that STEM interest, everything on the internet is a couple of clicks away,” he says.