Office of Planning and Budgeting

Emphasis on STEM Degree Production

Hi, my name is Anja Speckhardt, and I am a student assistant here at the Office of Planning and Budgeting, as well as a freshman at the UW. As a part of my job at OPB, I have been given the privilege to occasionally post to the blog about interesting topics I’m researching. Today, I chose to write about the current emphasis many policymakers, employers and institutions place on STEM education. This is especially exciting and relevant to me as an incoming freshman, as I explore the plethora of major options here at the UW. Thanks for reading!

For some time now, legislators at the state and national levels have been emphasizing degree production in “high demand” fields such as science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Spurred on by President Obama’s call to increase the number and quality of math and science teachers, and aware of the large engineering, software, and technology corporations integral to Washington State’s success and job market, Washington State’s Higher Education Coordinating Board (HECB) proposed a Fund for Innovation to increase the number of high demand degrees awarded (among other objectives).  Among their reasons are that, in comparison to other fields, job prospects in STEM are still promising, student demand for these majors is high, and technology and science are important for innovation.

The University of Washington is well-known for its outstanding medical, nursing and engineering schools, as well as its strong math and science programs. Additionally, from its earliest days, the UW has had an important relationship with the firms in the area:  the wind tunnel, partly sponsored by Bill Boeing in 1939, is a perfect example of this. Support for STEM programs is integral to the UW’s success, because students have come to expect access to and excellence from these departments.

However, it is important to remember that not all of the students attending the UW are technologically or scientifically inclined and seek to impact the world in other ways. Some highly intelligent and motivated students choose to major in history, music theory, or political science, or one of the many other fantastic programs in humanities, social sciences, and fine arts. The UW is home to a highly ranked International Studies school, as well as a leading Business school. We don’t only have a wind tunnel, we also display the largest book in the world—a book of photography.

The UW’s extensive General Education requirements allow students to explore many disciplines and choose to pursue those that interest them the most. The University is a venue for exploring interests and giving students the opportunity to find their passion—be it biochemistry or French.

This brings up the interesting question of the purpose of a university: Is it primarily to further education in all its multifaceted forms, or should its focus lie solely in career preparation? Presently, career preparation has taken hold as an important, if not primary, goal of a university as well as a measure of its success. However, it is critical that such focus and investment not be at the expense of the multiplicity of disciplines and inclinations that are an important part of the UW’s success and each student’s experience. In fact, new research shows that a high GPA and a good work ethic can be a better recommendation to future employers than a degree in a certain field.

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