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Carnegie Science Center Talks STEM on Capitol Hill

With the number of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, jobs increasing at three times the rate of other industries, the Carnegie Science Center is encouraging schools and Pennsylvania lawmakers to focus on improving the way students learn about STEM fields.

During a Wednesday congressional briefing in Washington, D.C., science center representatives and educators outlined the Carnegie STEM Excellence Pathway, an initiative that launched in October to help schools evaluate and expand the way they teach math and science.

The initiative provides schools with a rubric that can be used to grade how well students are being taught in STEM areas. Schools then self-assess their teacher qualifications, curriculum and instructional practices. Schools also examine how students are asked to demonstrate STEM skills, how teachers can involve students’ families and how students can make real-world connections with STEM professionals.

“There’s sort of this stereotypical impression of what a scientist is, and it’s the white lab coat and the Bunsen burner and all these things,” said Jason Brown, director of science and education at Carnegie Science Center. “And the fact of the matter is there are millions of practicing STEM professionals who don’t fit that definition.”

Brown helped develop the Excellence Pathway program. He said that instead of telling teachers and school administrators that they are “doing things wrong,” the program helps schools set “positive” priorities that can reasonably be achieved.

Reps. Keith Rothfus (R-Beaver) and Mike Doyle (D-Pittsburgh) co-hosted the briefing, and both men emphasized the importance of STEM-educated students in western Pennsylvania and across the nation.

“We have so many good paying jobs available in STEM related fields,” Rothfus said. “You look at … the strength of sectors of our economy in health care, in manufacturing, in high tech, in energy — all these jobs across Western Pennsylvania can’t find enough workers to fill these positions.”

Doyle added that not all STEM jobs require a four-year degree. Health and computer technicians can graduate with associate’s degrees and earn an average annual salary of $60,000.

“And one of the things we want to stress to young people and families is these STEM workers are earning higher wages, up to 60 percent more than their non-STEM counterparts,” Doyle said.

So far, the Pathway has partnered with 119 schools in seven states, reaching more than 1.5 million students.