Government is getting it, too. "When it comes to STEM, the connection with local employers is probably the place where you'd have the best opportunity to fail or to succeed," Delaware Gov. Jack Markell told U.S. News last month. Florida Gov. Rick Scott has suggested that the state's public universities offer cheaper degrees in the STEM fields in order to encourage more students to bite.
Partnerships are multiplying and the positive results of such cross-pollination are mounting. One such promising compact that's spreading: the Pathways in Technology Early College High School in Brooklyn, N.Y., a collaboration between the New York City Department of Education, the City University of New York, and IBM. At P-TECH, which opened its doors in 2011, students engage in a six-year program, grades 9 through 14, where they earn a high school diploma and a tech associate's degree. Students benefit from work with industry mentors and have pretty good odds of landing a job upon graduation.
Sure enough, STEM's celebrity is building, though it still has a long way to go. Public awareness is growing, thanks to some high-profile events like the White House Science Fair and robotics competitions. Musician and Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am has become a vocal champion of STEM and engaging more students in the fields. Actress Eva Longoria, who earned a master's degree in Chicano studies from California State University–Northridge last month, wrote her thesis on women in STEM. And the CBS sitcom "The Big Bang Theory," about a group of geeky Caltech scientists, continues to be one of the most popular shows on TV.
Still, the message hasn't fully seeped in. Mainstream urgency around STEM isn't quite there yet, even though half of parents surveyed for a 2011 Microsoft/Harris Interactive poll said they would like to see their children pursue a career in the field. A public STEM knowledge gap persists: Only 20 percent of adults responding to an April survey from the Pew Research Center and Smithsonian magazine knew that nitrogen is the gas that makes up most of the atmosphere. Experts continue to emphasize the need to make STEM relevant and to bestow such skills on not just tomorrow's astrophysicists and biomedical engineers, but all future job seekers. "It's part of sort of a liberal education for the 21st century," National Academy of Engineering President Charles Vest told U.S. News earlier this year. "If we're going to have a vibrant economy and we're going to lead in the world, we need this background in all our kids."