Why STEM Is Key for Sustainable Development

July 2015 – By Daniel Suchenski

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), are vital disciplines to our future, the future of our country, the future of our region and the future of our children.

Stop and consider how often we experience STEM in our daily lives? Example of STEM include everything from the natural world, to our smartphones, to healthcare, to agriculture, to cleaning supplies you buy at the grocery store and the roads, bridges other transportation services you may have used to get to that grocery store in the first place. STEM is important, not only because it pervades every aspect of our lives, but because it is the key to a better tomorrow.

Humanity has noble and long-standing tradition of innovation, entrepreneurship and exploration that has allowed us to do everything from go to the moon, to instantly send information around the world, and even to save and extend lives.

Sustainability has a very storied past but seems to have reached a pinnacle moment of late. Recent key players around the world are asking more from humanity now than ever before to come together to handle local and global issues that STEM will play the principal role in solving.

Let’s consider how STEM effects what is closest and dearest to us—our children. For the next generation to succeed STEM innovation will be absolutely vital for continued sustainable development across the globe. For 2014, the US News and World Report listed the ten best jobs. All ten of them were in STEM fields: software developer, computer systems analyst, dentist, nurse practitioner, pharmacist, registered nurse, physical therapist, physician, web developer, dental hygienist[1]. According to the U. S. Department of Education, STEM jobs are growing at 1.7 times the rate of non-STEM jobs, and the U.S. is simply not producing enough candidates to fill them. Only 16% of high school seniors are interested in pursuing STEM careers.[2] Not only is STEM important to having our children gainfully employed, but also offers a sustainable innovation pathway for the world.

Rob Denson, Chair, STEM Higher Education Council, President, Des Moines Area Community College and Edie Fraser, Chief Executive Officer, STEMConnector® state, as part of the forward to their new book Advancing a Jobs-Driven Economy that, “Aligning, corporate, education, and community partners requires that we rethink and redesign the system that supports STEM education and workforce preparedness. The sustainability of our schools, the innovative engines of our businesses, the prosperity of communities, and the global competitiveness of our economies are at stake.”[3]

The connection between sustainability and STEM is hardly just an American need. While the Obama administration and congress seem aligned on the greater need for STEM nationally, the international community is been making significant steps to advance a global STEM driven economy. Pope Francis on July 21st 2015, hosted some 65 mayors from across the world at the Vatican-sponsored conference on Climate Change. The two-day conference, titled “Modern Slavery and Climate Change: The Commitment of the Cities” and “Prosperity, People and Planet: Achieving Sustainable Development in Our Cities,” is the latest in a series of public efforts on the part of the Vatican to influence the debate on climate change and other global issues. Like many global issues of today, it will take skilled Scientists, Mathematicians, Engineers and Technologists to come up with plans to help alleviate growing problems like climate change, pollution, waste, water usage, and much much more.

The Pope’s efforts come at a time when the international community at the United Nations will vote September 2015 on sustainable development goals, and member nations will submit plans to combat climate change this winter in Paris. The United Nations in a 2013 meeting that acted as a precursor to the September Sustainable Development Goals noted that while innovation and R&D are essential elements to the goals, that in particular that areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics: the so called STEM subjects will be “the key to ensuring sustainable progress: no effective research would be possible without a steady supply of trained, competent researchers” trained in STEM disciplines.[4]

For the Delaware Valley region, investing in the future of science, technology, engineering and mathematics makes sense for local large firms like InterDigital, Dow, Ashland, Christiana Care Health System, AstraZeneca, DuPont, AirLiquide and Incyte, as well as several international engineering firms, and a growing large life sciences and agriculture industry. The Delaware Valley region’s challenge in recruiting sufficient numbers of STEM professionals is daunting, in the face of competing with known areas like the Silicon Valley or the Research Triangle. Local firms are finding it difficult to recruit the STEM professionals they need to continue to be successful in today’s ever-changing business environment.

According to Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce, Delaware ranks only behind Massachusetts for the best state to get a job as a STEM grad.[5] And the region will need thousands of additional people completing post-secondary degrees by every year. From community colleges like Delaware Technical, to state institutions like Delaware State University and the University of Delaware, and private colleges like Wesley, and Wilmington University and others, the region has the capacity to produce more trained individuals. Introducing our current and future students to STEM opportunities and getting them engaged and excited about seeking advanced schooling in these areas is essential to meet these demands.

If the United States is to remain a center for research, innovation, entrepreneurship and prominence, then we must motivate all citizens into STEM fields. Because STEM is so important for our children, our region and our country, we need to encourage current and future generations of students, to understand and embrace the technology that affects them every day of their lives. Students should be advised on the merits of taking as many math and science courses in elementary and middle as much as possible but also meet with STEM professional mentors like the Its My Future Program that Junior Achievement of Delaware administers[6], to make science and math courses fun and interesting such that their passions will grow into an exciting and rewarding STEM career.



Daniel Suchenski runs the Governor’s STEM Council for the state of Delaware. He is responsible for oversight and management of all day-to-day functions and services; acts as the focal point for all STEM Council matters; serves as the primary liaison to the Governor’s Office, Department of Education, institutions of higher education and regional businesses to further the mission of the STEM Council.

[1] http://money.usnews.com/money/careers/articles/2014/01/23/the-best-jobs-…

[2] http://money.cnn.com/2014/09/25/smallbusiness/stem-facts/

[3] STEMConnector Team (2015). Advancing a Jobs-Driven Economy. New York, NY. Morgan James Publishing. Page XXII

[4] https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/4628cern.pdf

[5] http://delawarestem.org/event/new-georgetown-university-report-finds-mas…

[6] http://delawarestem.org/news/junior-achievement-partners-stem-council-do…