STEM Beats - October 2014

Top 5 Cities for New Engineering Jobs

October 28, 2014

Like almost everything else, engineering jobs took a hit in the recession, but they’ve been coming back strong. Earlier this year, a CTEq analysis of federal data showed that the unemployment rate for recent engineering graduates was a mere 2.2 percent from 2011 to 2014. Compare that to almost 7.0 percent for recent bachelor’s degree holders overall.

When it comes to engineering jobs, some cities have been growing faster than others. Those cities have reason to celebrate, because a growing engineering workforce is an important sign of economic vitality. Where there are engineers, there is Innovation and industry.  

Yet those cities cannot rest on their laurels. Almost one in four engineers is 55 or older, and most are white men. As the profession gets hit by a tidal wave of retirements, even the fastest-growing cities might have a tough time finding the talent they need to stay on the cutting edge.

Based on our analysis of the nation's 100 largest metro areas, here are the the top five metro areas for growth in engineering:

5. Houston, Texas

Houston skyline

The Houston area has long been a magnet for engineering talent to feed its energy industry, which has been booming since the recession. The number of engineers in the area has risen 20 percent since 2009, and that adds up to more than 10,000 new jobs. The median salary for engineers in Houston? A cool $114,000 a year, which is a good reminder that petroleum engineers are among the highest-paid professionals in the country.

4. Des Moines, Iowa

Des Moines capitol

Unlike Houston, Des Moines is not known as an engineering hub. In fact, the Des Moines area has a smaller concentration of engineers than other cities its size. Still, the number of engineers in the area has grown 24 percent in the past five years, a sign that the city has been diversifying its base of industries and could be punching above its weight in years to come. The greater Des Moines area is home to a growing advanced manufacturing center, new bioscience companies, and data centers for tech giants like Microsoft and Facebook.

3. Grand Rapids, Michigan

Grand Rapids street life

The auto industry has helped buoy up the Grand Rapids economy, but the area also owes its growth to investments in industries ranging from smart manufacturing to agribusiness. The area has long had more than its share of engineering jobs, but the numbers have grown 28 percent since 2009, which amounts to almost 2,000 new jobs in a city of less than 200,000 people.

2. Chattanooga, Tennessee

Chattanooga bridge

The Chattanooga area barely edged out Grand Rapids on our list, with jobs for engineers growing by just over 28 percent over the past five years. The area has benefited from new employers including automotive supply companies that have cropped up around Volkswagen, which set up shop in Chattanooga in 2008. In addition, growth in the power generation industry has helped the area become an emerging center for engineering and technology.

1. Detroit, Michigan

Chattanooga bridge

Detroit is of course Cinderella story. After suffering a brutal blow in the last recession, the resurgent auto industry has helped the Detroit area rack up a whopping 39 percent increase in engineering jobs since 2009.  The metro area is now home to some 15,000 more working engineers than just five years ago. Yet there may be trouble on the horizon. More than half the city’s engineers are 45 or older, and a mere 12 percent are female. (Compare that to 24 percent for the nation as a whole.) An aging, mostly male workforce is not a great prescription for future growth. Maybe the combination of high salaries and a low cost of living can lure newly-minted female engineers to the Motor City. The $87,000-plus median salary in Detroit would be equivalent to almost $200,000 a year in Manhattan.

Data source: Change the Equation analysis of data from EMSI, an economic and employment data firm.

Tags: engineering, Top 5, jobs & workforce

Root, Root, Root for the STEM Connections in Baseball

October 27, 2014

The Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants are engaged in a thrilling competition as the World Series heads into the home stretch this week. Savor the final innings even more by exploring the STEM connections to the game.

Physics on the Field. If you really want to play hard ball, the Physics of Baseball is a pitching nirvana. There, you can explore research into the aerodynamics of the knuckleball pitch, the physics of a truly amazing throw, and the drag coefficient of a pitched baseball, among other topics. Alan M. Nathan, a professor emeritus of physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is the baseball fan who makes the sport a scholarly pursuit. 

Dr. Baseball, Einstein of the National Pastime. For a humorous and informative twist on the game, check out a few videos featuring “Dr. Baseball, Einstein of the national pastime” at Major League Physics. In just a few minutes, you can discover the secret of great pitching, why the sweet spot of a bat is so very sweet, why bats break, and how momentum plays out in collisions. “Dr. Baseball” is actually David Kagan, a professor emeritus of physics at California State University, Chico.

Nine Things Science Knows About Baseball. You can never have too much baseball trivia. Want to know the error most runners make when they round first base? How jet lag impacts players? When a bench-clearing brawl is most likely to break out? Read about the insights of scientists who’ve mined baseball statistics to make some quirky observations at Discover magazine.

A Contrarian’s View, with Stats. Boo! What if you’re just not into that into baseball? A recent article in The Atlantic argues that baseball is becoming too boring, thanks to a simple technology, otherwise known as the camera. Find out how cameras are reducing slugging percentages, keeping umpires honest, narrowing and lowering the strike zone, and making baseball a pitcher’s paradise. 

Designing a Whole New Ballgame. “Baseball is a game of inches, and those inches will be meaured in a brand new way,” according to Major League Baseball. This season, ballparks tried out new “fan experience technologies” that pull together together all the action on the field into a new datastream with metrics, analytics and videos for fans. Coaches, scouts and players also will be able to use these technologies, which are expected to be rolled out in all 30 ballbarks in 2015, to up their game. Something to look forward to after the last out of this year’s World Series!

No matter who you're rooting for, there's a little STEM for you in the game.  Now, pass the hotdogs and let's get ready to watch Game 6!

Tags: science, technology

STEM Afterschool

October 23, 2014

Afterschool STEM Programs Are in Demand

When the school day ends, nearly one in four families and 18 percent of children rely on afterschool programs to provide a safe and secure environment and inspire learning, according to a new report, America After 3PM.

For the first time, parents surveyed for this perennial report by the Afterschool Alliance were asked about afterschool STEM learning opportunities. Highlights of the findings:

  • nearly 7 in 10 all parents say that their afterschool program offers a STEM learning opportunity—and 7 in 10 parents also agree that afterschool programs should offer opportunities to explore and engage in hands-on STEM learning;
  • 65 percent of all parents agree that afterschool programs can help children gain interest and skills related to STEM; and
  • parents of children who are in an afterschool program believe these programs provide positive impacts, such as getting children excited about learning (82 percent) and helping them gain interest in STEM-related skills (78 percent) and gain workforce skills, such as teamwork, leadership and critical thinking (77 percent).

Overall, participation in afterschool programs is increasing—and it spans income levels, ethnicity and gender, particularly in elementary school, where more than 1 in 5 children (23 percent) are in an afterschool program. On the downside, however:

  • the unmet demand for afterschool programs continues to rise. More than 2 in 5 children—19.4 million—would participate if programs were available. For some children, cost is a barrier to participation; and 
  • parents of high school students are more likely than other parents to report that learning opportunities that were not provided during the school day and STEM learning opportunities were “very important” factors in their selection of afterschool programs—perhaps an indication that parents are trying to supplement gaps in the school curriculum.

These findings echo the results of a survey we conducted with CTEq member Nielsen in 2012, in which four out of five households with children said their children did not attend any sort of out-of-school STEM program. That number was even higher among households with children in high school.

At Change the Equation, we recognize the value of afterschool STEM programs. We hope you do as well—and that you’ll consider supporting accomplished programs that extend STEM learning beyond the school day. Here’s a sampling of the many proven afterschool programs in our STEMworks resource that merit support:

  • Engineering Adventures, a free curriculum created especially for children in grades 3 through 5 in out-of-school, afterschool, or camp programs to create exciting adventures and experiences that allow all elementary learners to act as engineers and engage in the engineering design process;
  • Girlstart After School, an intervention program that provides free, weekly afterschool STEM programming for girls in grades 3 through 8, as well as wraparound support for participating parents and teachers; and
  • Iridescent, a family science program that leverages two untapped resources, engineers and parents, with training for engineers to work with the same families year after year to help parents become successful participants, investors and leaders of the Family Science Program

And a heads up: Look for a special report on afterschool STEM learning from the Afterschool Alliance in 2015.

Tags: science, technology, women & girls, engineering

Play Ball! Up Your STEM Baseball Smarts for the World Series

October 21, 2014

Pennant fever is in full swing! And this year, two wild-card teams—the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants—are taking the field for the World Series. With baseball in the spotlight, it’s a great time to explore a few game changers that highlight mashups of STEM and sports. 

Big Data and the Big Defensive Shift. If you think big data applies only to business, think again. More and more, Major League teams are crunching numbers on opposing team hitters and positioning their own defensive players where they are most likely to get to the ball, using predictions based on each hitter’s past performance. Read about how baseball teams are embracing statistical analysis—and shaking up defensive position play—in the New York Times.

From Statistics to Sabermetrics. Figuring out batting averages for hitters and earned-run averages for pitchers has always been part of the game. That’s peanuts compared to sabermetrics, which you might think of as statistical analysis on steroids. Sabermetric researchers—and yes, there are plenty of PhDs in this “Phi Beta Kappa of baseball” crowd—are interested in advanced metrics such as wOBA (weighted on-base average), FIP (fielding-independent pitching) and WAR (wins above replacement). Learn more at SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research. 

Neuroscientists Keep Batters’ Eyes on the Ball. Researchers at the University of California, Riverside, are putting a cognitive spin on baseball training. In a controlled experiment in a lab, college ballplayers participated in 30, 25-minute sessions looking at visual patterns. The patterns, known as Gabor patches, are sine waves with different spatial frequencies and contrasts that stimulate neurons in the primary visual cortex. The training resulted in a 31% improvement in the players’ visual acuity. On the field, that eye-opening boost translated to fewer strikeouts and more runs scored or batted in, according to a study of this group of players and a control group. Read about it in the Los Angeles Times.

The application of neuroscience to baseball could turn into big business. Already, several Major League teams are working with companies that offer brain games and simulations designed to measure and improve players’ ability to recognize different pitches and decide more accurately and quickly whether to swing the bat. That could help hitters who have just a few milliseconds to react to that 90 mph fastball. Read about it in the Wall Street Journal.

Sadly, our favorite teams were knocked out in the playoffs (we'll be okay -- there's always next year). Who are you rooting for in the Series?

Top 5 U.S. Cities for Young Computer Professionals

October 16, 2014

You might think computer science is a young person's game dominated by whiz kids in hoodies. Think again. Nationally, a mere six percent of the computing workforce is younger than 25, compared to 13 percent of the workforce as a whole. What's more, the computing workforce is aging. This year, 43 percent is 45 or older, up from 35 percent in 2001.

Yet a handful of metro areas are attracting far more than their share of young computing professionals. Don't expect to see the usual suspects on this list. (Less than four percent of San Jose's computer professionals are under 25, for example.) Young people are finding computing careers far from Silicon Valley.

Based on our analysis of the nation's 100 largest metro areas, here are the the top five cities for young computer professionals:

5. McAllen, Texas

Mission in McAllen

More than ten percent of the computer workforce in the McAllen-Edinburgh-Mission metro area is younger than 25. This is McAllen's second appearance on a CTEq top 5 list. Just last month, we honored McAllen as one of the nation's top 5 metro areas for women in computing. Let's hope McAllen becomes a trend-setter for all U.S. cities.

4. Salt Lake City, Utah

Salt Lake City in Winter

Just over 11 percent of computer professionals in the Salt Lake City area are under 25. One reason might be the availability of skilled young workers. This year, Forbes Magazine ranked Salt Lake City among the best places for business in the U.S., citing its educated workforce as a major factor in their decision.

3. Ogden, Utah

Ogden Utah in Winter

Like its larger neighbor to the North, the Ogden-Clearfield metro area also made the list of the top cities for U.S. business, and the city's stratospheric high school graduation rate is one reason why. More than 11 percent of the area's computer professionals are younger than 25.

2. El Paso, Texas

El Paso Skyline

Twelve percent of the El Paso metro area's computing workforce is under 25. The University of Texas El Paso offers a ready source of computer talent.

1. Madison, Wisconsin

Madison, WI at night

For those who know the Madison area, its number one ranking is probably not surprising. The University of Wisconsin has been an engine of high-tech industry in the city, and the university's top-ranked computer science department produces a steady stream of new talent. More than 13 percent of the area's computer professionals are younger than 25.

Keep an eye on these five cities. They may just be a window into the future of computing.

Data source: Change the Equation analysis of data from EMSI, an economic and employment data firm.

Tags: Top 5, jobs & workforce, computer science