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Teens' Attitudes Towards STEM

The Lemelson-MIT Invention Index is an annual survey that gauges American teens’ perceptions about invention and innovation, while also supposedly revealing both their altruistic intentions and feelings of preparedness to pursue STEM-based careers.

The general conclusion of the January (2009) Index was that American teens are "embracing the subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) with increasingly positive attitudes; yet many lack the necessary encouragement from mentors and role models in these fields."

Some of the specific results:

  • 85% of the teens said they were interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics
  • 44% said their primary factor for interest in STEM was “curiosity about the way things work”
  • 56% said their motivations to work in STEM-related fields were altruistic (e.g. “protecting the environment” or “improving our society”), though 18% said their STEM-motivation was to become rich or famous
  • 80% felt that their high schools had prepared them to pursue a STEM-related career
  • 55% described scientists, engineers and mathematicians as “intelligent,” while only 5% used the stereotypical term “nerdy”
  • 66% were discouraged from pursuing a STEM-related career, with 31% saying they had no contact with anyone who works in these fields and 28% saying they did not even understand what people do in a STEM-field
No surprises in this survey...except that they must not have surveyed any of my students. For example, that initial 85% seems quite high, while the 5% nerd-factor seems low! Nonetheless, the last data-byte is troublesome, as how many mathematics teachers can say they have contact with someone who works in a STEM-field, let alone understands what people do in a STEM-field.

The Index is produced by the Lemelson-MIT Program, a non-profit organization that recognizes outstanding inventors and inspires young people to pursue creative lives and careers through invention. You might check out their website. I was humbled when I tried to play their Brain Drain, Invention Connection, and Which Came First?