What Does STEM Stand for in Education?

Academically reviewed by Dr. Ronald Uhlig
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The acronym STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics—four key disciplines that help us achieve innovation and deeper insights into the world around us. STEM is critical for many reasons, including problem-solving and critical thinking, innovation, career opportunities, and equality and diversity.

In education, the development of STEM programs has become more important than ever, with the National Science Foundation emphasizing the need for students to immerse in these areas at a young age, setting them up for success in STEM-related careers. The federal government further emphasizes the importance of STEM education in grades K-12, investing $3.9 billion annually to improve these programs and prepare students for critical field careers.

What is STEM?

On the surface, STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, but as an educational program, its importance is much more than just fostering an appreciation and understanding of these areas. STEM is a driving force behind innovation and economic growth.  Using STEM is critical to the advancement of the technologies that result in the development of new industries, new products, and new kinds of jobs.

STEM is about getting students to think differently and solve problems. STEM students learn how to tackle challenges and think critically by linking different subjects together. They learn how to gather and analyze information carefully yet curiously, leading to big discoveries in tech, medicine, data, robotics, and beyond. Developing cutting-edge technologies depends on a workforce with STEM skills.

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What are STEM Fields?

Four major disciplines—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics —fall under the umbrella of STEM. Let’s dive a bit deeper into each.


Various sciences fall under this wing of STEM, including biology, medicine, physics, chemistry, earth science, and more. Science helps us better understand the world around us. Although there are a variety of sciences to explore, all require the development of research skills and a way carry out research to measure and to record findings.


Technology is often the result of scientific discoveries put into practice, further complemented by engineering. Technology can involve working to develop new objects and infrastructures that make everyday living easier and better—such as more efficient and capable smartphones, computing systems, and communications networks. Technology also encompasses learning about these networks and their software, including how they transmit data, and how to implement cybersecurity measures to protect these networks and the data being transmitted over them.


Engineering serves as the link between science and technology, transforming theoretical knowledge into practical applications. It is the process through which technological concepts are realized and refined. Engineering encompasses various fields, from computer engineering to automotive design, and focuses on designing, constructing, and enhancing systems. Beyond fostering methodical creativity, engineering also promotes proactive problem-solving and anticipating future challenges to mitigate them.


In STEM, math is key. Mathematics is a basic tool for research and development that leads to advancements and improvements in the human condition. It provides a precise way to understand the laws of nature, build models of complex natural phenomena, and solve practical problems in engineering, physics, architecture, computer science, health, social science, and much more. It makes things like computer projects, medical studies, engineering tasks, and detailed planning easier to handle and understand. With areas like algebra, geometry, and trigonometry, math helps us solve problems and think clearly, connecting different STEM fields together.

Why is STEM Education Important?

STEM education isn’t just about setting students up for a hot job market. It’s about teaching them how to approach issues systematically, analyze data, and develop creative solutions, which are valuable skills in any field. With these skills, they can tackle problems and think deeply, pushing them to discover new scientific principles that enable new, cutting-edge technologies and new ways of doing things.

Additionally, it fuels creativity, prompting students to develop new solutions and ideas, collaborate with peers to discover effective strategies, and share knowledge.

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In-Demand STEM Careers

There is a bright future ahead for those pursuing a career in STEM fields. Here are just a few in-demand STEM careers to consider, based on your own personal interests.

1. Software Developer/Engineer: Software developers and engineers design, test, and troubleshoot a variety of computer programs and applications. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), they earn a median annual salary of $124,200. Demand for software developers is expected to increase by 25% before 2032, much faster than the average.

2. Data Scientist/Analyst: Data scientists and analysts use an arsenal of tools and techniques to connect large data sets to glean valuable insights to specific questions. They’re able to understand the nuances of data and how different types of data work together. According to the BLS, data scientists earn a median annual salary of $103,500 per year. The job outlook for data scientists is far higher than in other fields, with an expectation that demand will increase by 35% before 2032.

3. Information Security Analyst / Cybersecurity Specialist: These professionals work within a wing of cybersecurity, evaluate computer networks and systems, and design ways to keep proprietary and personal data secure. Information security analysts earn a median wage of $112,000 per year. The BLS reports that demand for information security analysts will increase 32% by 2032.

4. Environmental Scientist: Environmental scientists specialize in understanding and monitoring the world around us – including nature, the weather, human and animal biology, and more – to protect the planet and its people. These scientists earn a median yearly salary of $76,480, with the need for environmental scientists expected to increase by 6% before 2032.

5. Civil Engineer: A civil engineer is in charge of designing, building, and maintaining critical infrastructure systems such as roads, buildings, and bridges, as well as water supply and treatment systems, to name a few. Civil engineers earn a median average yearly pay of $89,940, with the BLS projecting a 5% increase in demand for this profession by 2032.

6. Robotics Engineer: A robotics engineer designs and builds a variety of robots and the software that powers them, ranging from mechanical robots that assist at construction or warehouse job sites to medical robots that assist during surgery. The average annual salary for a robotics engineer is $123,332.

7. Aerospace Engineer: These engineers design and build a variety of flying aircraft and projectiles, including airplanes, space shuttles, and satellites. Aerospace engineers are highly specialized, as they have to have an understanding of engineering principles, as well as the mechanics of how space travel will impact the design of a particular project. According to the BLS, they earn a median annual salary of $ 126,880 per year, with demand anticipated to hover at 6% before 2032.

8. Geoscientist: A geoscientist has a wide range of responsibilities, depending upon their area of focus. Some study and predict natural disasters such as earthquakes, while others examine the history of the Earth, as well as its physical composition. They typically earn an average salary of $87,480 per year. The BLS expects a 5% growth in the need for geoscientists before 2032.

Why Major in a STEM Field?

Majoring in a STEM field can be highly rewarding if you’re deeply interested in math, science, and computers. It offers the chance to understand how various systems and the world operate and also allows you to actively contribute to the development of new technologies or the enhancement of existing ones.

Majoring in a STEM field sets you up for a career in a growing field that may lead to more job opportunities and stability. According to the BLS, it’s estimated that STEM occupations will see a 10.8% increase in demand compared to a 2.3% increase across non-STEM jobs. As of 2019, the National Science Board noted that professionals in the STEM field had higher median earnings than those in non-STEM fields. That figure will only stand to grow, aligned with higher demand and inflation.


STEM hones in on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, putting a spotlight on the technical and analytical skills needed to innovate and solve problems in our tech-driven world. On the other hand, STEAM takes STEM a step further by weaving in the Arts, highlighting how mixing technical know-how with creativity leads to better innovation. This blend promotes a well-rounded education, combining the thoroughness of science with the inventiveness of the arts to more effectively address complex issues and encourage flexible thinking. While STEM is all about nailing down the technical details, STEAM aims for a well-rounded view, gearing up students for a variety of evolving career paths.

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Essential Skills for Success in STEM

Navigating a career in STEM is about more than just a mastery in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. It’s also about how you work with others and adapt to change. Let’s explore the key skills you need for success in STEM. This includes both the hard skills, like your technical know-how, and the soft skills, like communication and creativity, that help you apply your knowledge effectively and work well in teams. Here’s a closer look at the essential skills that can set you up for a successful journey in the STEM world.

Hard Skills

  • Problem-solving: At the core of STEM, problem-solving is all about finding solutions to complex issues, whether they’re tricky math equations or challenging engineering hurdles.
  • Technical proficiency: Hands-on skills in areas like coding, data analysis, and technical writing are crucial. It’s about knowing your way around the tools and technologies that make up the backbone of STEM fields.
  • Scientific reasoning: Understanding the scientific method and being able to apply it to experiments and research is key. This means being able to hypothesize, test, and draw conclusions in a structured way.

Soft Skills

  • Creativity: Innovation in STEM often comes from thinking outside the box. Creativity isn’t just for artists; it’s essential for developing new technologies and solutions in STEM too.
  • Innovation: STEM fields are catalysts for a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, driving progress and addressing societal needs.
  • Communication: Effective communication is vital for writing a clear research paper, explaining complex concepts to non-experts, or collaborating with a team.
  • Adaptability: The world of STEM is always evolving, so being able to adapt to new technologies, theories, and methods is crucial. It’s about staying flexible and ready to learn.

In both sets of skills, the idea is to blend the technical know-how with the human touch. Hard skills get the job done, while soft skills ensure the work is effective, innovative, and can be shared with others. Both are essential for carving out a successful path in any STEM career.

STEM Education

A STEM education can put you on a path to a rewarding career in the fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. These areas of study are intertwined with one another and provide key building blocks to developing an in-demand skill set in areas projected to see strong job growth.

Jumpstart a career in STEM with a degree from National University. Explore Science and Math degrees, including a Bachelor of Science in Biology or Clinical Laboratory Science. If computers are more appealing to you, we offer a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and a Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity, as well as a Master of Science in Computer Science and a Master of Science in Cybersecurity degree. Open the door to a meaningful career that puts you at the forefront of discovery with National University.

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