In the past few years, Michigan has roared back to life as a magnet for STEM jobs like engineering, and the state's employers are right to wonder if they will be able to fill those jobs with qualified people. Fortunately, we see strong signs that Michigan leaders are on the case.
On Tuesday, I was honored to testify before Michigan's House Education Reform Committee about Change the Equation's efforts to help the state identify and scale K-12 STEM education programs that are most likely to have an impact. CTEq's STEMworks has already helped rigorously-vetted programs, such as Engineering is Elementary and Project Lead the Way, receive $1 million in state funds. We have high hopes for much more to come.
Efforts like these are very timely. For a state that was ground zero in the Great Recession, Michigan has an uplifing story to tell about STEM jobs. For example, it has been a great place for engineers. The number of engineering jobs in the state grew 11 percent from 2006 and 2016, compared to a meager 2 percent for the nation as a whole. Engineering jobs will probably grow another 13 percent between 2016 and 2026, faster than the 11 percent projected for the nation. That amounts to tens of thousands of engineering jobs.
Will employers be able to find the engineering talent they need over the coming decade? That's a harder question to answer. There is some reason for concern. First, they cannot fully tap the state's minority talent. Black, Latinos, and American Indian Michiganders make up 23 percent of the state's college-age population but receive only 5 percent of engineering degrees and certificates:
Women are almost as scarce in the field:
There's good news on the horizon: In late 2015, the state adopted academic standards in science that formally incorporate engineering principles. If other states that have adoped similar standards are any indication, all Michigan students, regardless of race or gender, will soon learn the fundamental principles of engineering.
Programs like those in STEMworks will only help.
Last Friday, I was honored to give a plenary talk to an inspiring group of career and technical education (CTE) advocates at the Winter Meeting of the Pennslyvania Association of Career & Technical Administrators. Before traveling to the Keystone State, I looked into some data on the condition of STEM CTE there. Two conclusions leapt out at me:
In both regards, Pennsylvania resembles the nation as a whole. At a time when STEM employers are looking for all the talent they can get, this gender segregation is bad for their bottom line, the nation, and the thousands of young people who need access to more and better jobs. The good news is that advocates and educators in Pennsylvania are on the case.
You can download my presentation to PACTA here, or check out some of the major takeaways below:
Career and technical education is no longer the forgotten stepchild of education reform. The plight of jobless Americans took center stage in the turbulent Presidential election and raised the stakes for creating pathways to the middle class that don’t pass through the ivy-fringed gates of four-year colleges. In fact, jaded Congress watchers believe that CTE may be one of the few issues that will win bipartisan support in 2017.
That’s good news, but converts to the CTE cause will soon discover what CTE experts have known for a long time: namely, that the gender gaps in CTE’s STEM subjects are every bit as large as gender gaps in advanced math and science classes. In fact, those gaps are growing. To create broad opportunities for all their students, states must meet this problem head on.
To gauge the depth of the challenge, we reviewed federal data on high school students who concentrate in one of four critical STEM CTE fields: Health science, information technology, manufacturing, and science & technology.
The lion’s share of female high schoolers concentrating in STEM CTE study health science, while male students are more evenly distributed:
Not surprisingly, high school girls dominate health science, but they are scarce in the other three career clusters. The imbalance has gotten worse since 2007/08:
In science and engineering, girls held steady at a measly 25 percent. 
The news isn’t all bad for girls. They dominate in health sciences at a time when the healthcare sector is growing quickly and middle-skill jobs in health command a strong wage, at least for those who go on to earn a two-year technical degree.
Still, the gender imbalances should concern everyone. it’s more than a bit troubling that segregation by gender is getting worse. As fields like healthcare and computing continue to grow, we cannot draw most of our talent from only half of the population. In addition, a growing body of research tells us that organizations benefit from gender diversity in the workplace.
What’s to be done? As with most problems that really matter, the solutions are multifaceted, ranging from formally recruiting girls as early as middle schools to redesigning CTE curricula to avoid gender stereotypes and providing CTE teachers professional development on how to create a welcoming environment for all genders.
(Check out this handy primer on professional development for a fuller list.)
Employers should continue making the case for gender balance while identifying employees who can serve as mentors: female employees in advanced manufacturing, for example, or male nurses. Governors can use their bully pulpit to advance campaigns that encourage gender diversity in middle-skill STEM jobs. Career and technical educators can work with their schools and districts to design targeted student recruitment strategies that break through the gender stereotypes.
Each state or community might find a different set of solutions, but none can afford to ignore the problem. State leaders must dedicate themselves to improving matters. The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006, which is likely to be reauthorized this year, requires states to report on their progress in improving gender equity in CTE. It is not yet clear, however, whether states will suffer any federal consequences if they fail to reach their targets. There is little appetite for federal sanctions these days.
The solution is up to all of us. After all, everyone has a major stake in fostering a creative and robust middle skills workforce. We won’t get there if we allow boys and girls to go their separate ways.
 Health Science, Information Technology, Manufacturing, and “STEM” are career clusters in the National Career Clusters Framework. For the purposes of this analysis, we have renamed the STEM career cluster as “Science & engineering” to avoid confusion with our own definition of STEM, which includes the other three career clusters. The Science & engineering cluster includes “planning, managing and providing scientific research and professional and technical services (e.g., physical science, social science, engineering) including laboratory and testing services, and research and development services.”
 Data reveal that male and female enrollments more than doubled—growing by roughly 120 percent each. That said, girls did not improve their relative position.
In the past three weeks, we have been examining recent data on computing and engineering degrees. We have already reported encouraging news about the overall growth in those degrees and mixed news about the extent to which African Americans and Latinos are sharing in that growth. Today's blog examines how women are faring in these critical fields. Our verdict: there is not much to celebrate yet, but there may be some glimmers of hope.
Let’s start with the glass half empty. The following chart looks far too familiar, even though it contains some new data on the gender disparity in computing degrees:
While men have surged past their 2004 peak by a healthy 27 percent, women just barely cleared their 2003 peak last year.
And the above chart conveys the good news, relatively speaking: it represents trends in bachelor’s and higher degrees, where women fared the best. Women have lost far more ground in degrees and certificates below the bachelor’s level:
Women’s share of bachelor’s and higher degrees tumbled by more than six percentage points since 2001, but their share of sub-bachelor’s credentials plunged by more than 20 percentage points over the same period.
Why is this a concern? Economists expect computing jobs to surge in the coming decade, and computing jobs that require less than a bachelor's degree are no exception. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that, between 2014 and 2024, jobs for computer support specialists and web developers will grow by 11.6 and 26.6 percent, respectively. Over that decade, these two occupations will generate 265,000 job openings whose average pay well exceeds the $36,200 average salary for all occupations. The past decade and a half have seen women's prospects for such good jobs plummet.
And now for the glass half full: While some of these data seem discouraging on their face, the charts do suggest that we have finally stanched the bleeding. The decline in computing degrees and certificates going to women has leveled off.
There may be much better news to come. The last five years have seen an unprecedented national focus on girls in computer science. It will take a few years yet for that focus to affect college graduation data.
At first blush, there seems to be more to celebrate in engineering than in computer science. Women made small gains in engineering degrees at the bachelor’s level and above, even as they earned a declining share of credentials below the bachelor’s level:
The share of engineering degrees that went to women climbed 2.4 percentage points between 2009 and 2015. The decline in sub-bachelor's degrees is less concerning in engineering than in computing, because the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects little or no growth in engineering technology jobs, which generally require less than a bachelor's degree.
Things are moving in the right direction for women in engineering, but too slowly. At this rate, women will have to wait roughly three quarters of a century to reach parity with men.
A closer look at the data reveals stronger trends in master’s and doctoral degrees since 2001:
Women's share of master's degrees rose by almost four percentage points between 2001 and 2015, and their share of doctoral degrees advanced by more than six and a half percentage points. Women's percentage of bachelor's degrees experiences a slow and steady slump before 2009 but women have regained all of their lost ground since then. Initiatives to diversify graduate degrees may be bearing fruit.
These data suggest that initiatives to diversify graduate degrees may be paying off, which in turn can promote more female role models among U.S. engineering professors[i] That said, we still have far to go before women receive a proportionate share of doctoral degrees.
[i] Data are scarce on how many women serve on engineering faculty. Researchers should study whether women’s progress in doctoral degrees is affecting the gender balance of engineering departments.
Some of the best known (and coolest!) scientists, mathematicians, and engineers come from the big screen. And whether you realize it or not, these fictional characters shape ideas about who should pursue STEM and who shouldn't. Marvel, the popular superhero comic book and box office hit creator, takes that mind-shaping responsibility quite seriously. This month, expect to see some super smart and diverse superheroes on the comic book stands. With these new takes on classic heroes, Marvel cleverly sends a message that celebrates the breadth of STEM fields while encouraging an untapped market's interest in those fields through relatable characters. Marvel is helping to save the STEM universe, one comic book cover at a time!
“Our characters have been exciting fans for ages,” says the senior vice president of print, sales, and marketing, David Gabriel. “With our new STEAM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics] Variants, we plan to continue to motivate our fans to explore their passions in the fields of science, technology, engineering, art, and math and present these disciplines through some of our favorite young heroes who are doing just that--following their dreams and preparing for the challenges that await them ahead.”
The STEM-themed covers feature some of your old favorites with an inclusive twist—like bi-racial Spider Man Miles Morales, Korean American Amadeus Cho as Hulk, and Tony Stark’s Iron Man successor 15-year-old African-American science genius Riri
“[Riri’s character and story are] inspired by the world around me and not seeing that represented enough in popular culture,” says Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis.Williams. Also, expect introductions to new characters like GwenPool and Moon Girl. Marvel has evolved both the look and the stories of their comic book characters to better reflect today’s world. The creators seek to spark the academic genius in the leaders of tomorrow—no matter what those geniuses look like and where they come from.
As the next generation prepares to tackle the world’s toughest challenges, Marvel’s efforts to engage everyone through fiction bring us one step closer to STEMspiring many more young minds.
Photos provided courtesy of Marvel.com