Monday numbers: A closer look at the effort to get more women into STEM fields

By: - October 24, 2022 6:00 am

Phyllis King was recently recognized as an outstanding educator by National STEM Honor Society.

Lumberton’s Phyllis King was recently recognized as an outstanding educator by National STEM Honor Society.

“When I talk to CEOs, the top three issues are workforce, workforce and workforce,” Gov. Roy Cooper recently told a group of business and technology leaders gathered at the SAS headquarters in Cary.

While the state sees advanced manufacturing as a primary driver of its economic future, many wonder if the North Carolina will have the skilled and diverse talent pool to fill those jobs.

It’s estimated that there are currently 800,000 open jobs in the manufacturing sector, according to the National Association of Manufacturers.

One solution?

Increase the opportunities for girls and women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

Phyllis King, a veteran Career and Technical Education teacher at Lumberton Junior High School, touted the benefits of STEM education before the House Select Committee on Advancing Women in STEM in mid-October.

The nationally board certified teacher told legislators students involved in the hands-on, cross curriculum Future City program at her school discover how to apply math and science to real world problems.

Students present their Future City concept (Screenshot from legislative presentation)

Middle school students are paired with engineer mentors to create both computer and three-dimensional models of how they envision the city of tomorrow.

“Students in the Future City [program] must think outside the box, how to solve problems without being told they have to chose between a group of predetermined answers like a standardized test,” King explained.

But King says the state and local districts must “lead the charge” in encouraging programs like Future City and more STEM offerings.

“STEM cannot be the other class — a side dish, not important,” she said. “It has to become the core, students must see science, technology, engineering and math in application.”

King said STEM can be taught by anyone, but high-quality professional development will help North Carolina’s teachers better integrate the lessons into other subjects.

Dr. Leah Townsend, Pulvinar Neuro CEO

Pulvinar Neuro CEO Leah Townsend echoed the need to provide more mentors to expose students to science and technology at an early age.

“We make non-invasive, brain stimulation devices to treat mental health conditions, chronic pain and substance abuse disorder. That field did not exist when I was in middle school. So how do we ensure that the middle school students of today are prepared to tackle the challenges of tomorrow?”

Townsend said programs like Future City plant the seeds early enough to change the career-trajectory of promising students, especially girls.

“By teaching these skills, how to take an opaque project without much guidance and direction, how do you break that down into actionable steps? We are giving them that early skill set in middle school that they can then develop on their own throughout high school, college and beyond,” she explained.

Pamela Townsend, past president of the Professional Engineers of North Carolina (PENC), said seed money in the last state budget will provide stipends for teachers and travel money for students to take part in STEM competitions. Her hope is a recurring state appropriation would allow for more professional development for teachers and an ability to scale Future City to all 100 counties.

State funding is also helping the education start-up Betabox Learning bring hands-on STEM programs to rural and underserved schools through its mobile technology lab model.

Pamela Townsend, past president of the Professional Engineers of North Carolina (PENC)

Beyond K-12, members of the North Carolina Association of CPAs are urging lawmakers to help promote accounting as a STEM profession. Women make up more than half of accounting graduates, but the number of math-savvy undergraduate students entering that pipeline has dropped 6.6% from 2019-2021.

Today we take a by-the-numbers look at the need to increase students learning in STEM related fields:

300,000 – Number of jobs in STEM occupations in North Carolina in 2021, the 11th most in the U.S.

71 – Percentage of North Carolina STEM employers who say they have trouble finding the employees they need (Source: 2021 NC Employer Needs Survey/NC Department of Commerce)

78 – Percentage of North Carolina STEM employers say there are too few applicants for STEM-related jobs (Ibid)

41 – Percentage of North Carolina STEM employers who say entry-level hires lack technical skills needed

50% – Women make up half of North Carolina’s workforce for all jobs

28% – Yet women account for less than one-third of North Carolina’s STEM jobs

27,000+ – Projected number of job openings per year in North Carolina in STEM occupations, accounting for growth and turnover

3.6 – Percentage of women working in STEM jobs, 2011

Source: NC Dept. of Commerce presentation

5 – Percentage of women working in STEM jobs, 2021

13 – Percentage of engineering undergraduate degrees awarded to white women in 2016 (Source: National Science Foundation)

8 – Percentage of engineering undergraduate degrees awarded to women of color

79 – Percentage awarded to men of any race/ethnicity

2 times – STEM occupations are expected to grow more than twice as fast as non-STEM fields in U.S. through 2031

$94,810 – Median wage of STEM jobs in North Carolina, 13th highest in U.S. (Source: NC Department of Commerce)

$80,289 – Average earnings for women working in STEM industry jobs (2021)

$43,763 – Average earnings for women working in non-STEM related jobs (2021)

$63,093 – Average earnings for men working in non-STEM related jobs (2021)

3.1 % – Annual percentage growth for Information Security Analyst jobs projected through 2028

2.6% – Annual percentage growth for software developer jobs through 2028

350 – Number of NC middle school students who participated in the Future City competition this year

$165,000 – Annual appropriation needed to fund the Educational Foundation for the Future City Competition and allow the organization to meet mentoring and long-term expansion goals of reaching all 100 counties

2.5 times – Girls with a mentor are 2.5 times more likely to be confident in their ability to succeed in school and career (Source: Science Daily)

2 times – Individuals who were mentored were twice as likely to be promoted (Source: Business Insider)

800,000 – The number of open jobs in the manufacturing sector according to the National Association of Manufacturers

Bonus read: Learn more about Evidence-based Strategies for Attracting and Retaining Girls and Women in STEM from the National Science Foundation

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Clayton Henkel
Clayton Henkel

Communications Coordinator Clayton Henkel manages the NC Newsline website and daily newsletter, while also producing daily audio commentaries and the weekly News and Views radio program/podcast.