In order to keep students engaged and interested in STEM subjects, it is essential educators provide relevant, real world connections to the material being taught. These learning experiences allow students to fully understand a topic, and potentially open doors to careers they did not previously realize they were interested in.
Last Friday, I presented at the STEM Career Day at Harrison Middle School in the Baldwin-Whitehall School District. Prior to becoming a teacher/professional development specialist, I worked in the biochemistry lab at West Penn Hospital for seven years as a clinical scientist. At the STEM Career Day, students had the opportunity to sign up to attend four different sessions highlighting STEM careers. I discussed my role as a clinical scientist and the importance of tests performed on patient samples in diagnosing medical issues.
The students were engaged throughout my entire 30 minute presentation and asked multiple questions. The minute I started talking about “gross” body fluids, I had them! They were incredibly interested in learning about the bacteria that causes strep throat. One of the questions that particularly stood out to me was, “What classes should I take in high school to do this?” I loved this question because it showed students were making connections to their own lives and thinking about what skills and content they need to achieve their desired career goals.
Overall, I thought the career day was very beneficial for the students. I felt it was a fun, engaging and inspiring way to introduce the 8th graders to STEM careers. My session was rated one of the students’ favorites on their evaluation forms, and in other sessions I watched I overheard students leaving the session saying, “That was really cool!” Students walked away with an understanding of what STEM really means and its relevance to their everyday lives. They also learned STEM skills like problem solving and critical thinking are crucial even in non-STEM careers. At the end of my presentation, I questioned the group to see how many students were interested in some type of STEM career and about 75% of them said they were now. To me, this demonstrates the importance of classroom to career connections, not only to increase the number of students interested in STEM careers but to help them find careers they truly enjoy and are passionate about.