As I write this letter, our nation is slowly coming out of a recession created by tax breaks that largely benefited the top 1 percent and two wars that left hundreds of thousands dead, millions injured, and our nation in a perpetual state of insecurity.
To propel our nation forward, each one of us has a role to play. As your dad, my job is to equip you with an education that enables you to solve problems that face our society. And its my belief, as an engineer and lawyer, that the best education is one rich in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
In 2013, STEM has become the new “cool.” It’s evolved into a potent symbol for everything that is right, promising, and exceptional about America. Some might argue that, today, STEM is an icon more powerful than the S on the chest of the “Man of Steel.”
Despite the rise in STEM’s popularity, some parents have yet to get the memo. A recent Marketplace profile featured parents who invest thousands of dollars annually preparing their children for collegiate and professional sports. One pair of parents spend summers traveling an average of 2000 miles for their son to participate in a traveling baseball league. According to the mom, an exceptional student athlete has a better shot at getting a college scholarship than a student scholar.
Sadly for her children, this mother’s overemphasis on athletics is misplaced. While the best athletes in the country can receive free tuition to elite universities, there is only a tiny percentage of such scholarships. On the contrary, academic scholarships are much more prevalent and there is much more money for them.
What about a child’s shot at the pros? Quick answer: much worse. For example, the boy who wants to be a pro baseball player has a 0.4 percent chance.
Now what if these parents invested the same resources preparing their sons for careers as scientists, tech workers, engineers, or math teachers? Well the numbers are clear.
STEM workers make an average of 26 percent more than their non-STEM counterparts. In addition, jobs in professional, scientific, and technical services are growing, with about 2.1 million projected to be created in a decade. All of this means that a career in STEM is likely to result in not only a job, but a highly paid job.
Thus, you can count on me to do all I can to inspire you to embrace STEM as your pathway up the socioeconomic ladder. Who knows, maybe you’ll patent your first invention before college. You’d follow the lead of other teen inventors such as 16-year-old Jack Andraka, whose science fair project is now detecting cancers.
After college, armed with a STEM degree, you should have ample options. If you choose to study computer science, for example, you may have at least three employers courting you. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that annually, our nation creates more than 120,000 new jobs requiring workers with bachelors of science in computer science degrees, but US colleges produce just 40,000 computer science graduates each year.
You should have your choice of where to live after college with a STEM degree. The Brookings Institute reports that in the average large metropolis from Charlotte to Atlanta, 30 percent of job openings are in STEM fields.
If more parents see STEM careers as pathways for their children’s entry into the middle or upper income brackets, US companies could save millions they spend to import foreign-born STEM workers.
Whatever STEM field you choose, I pray that you will avoid jobs or innovations that lead to a violation of privacy, like those recently disclosed. Rather than using your talents on making the next military drone, killer laser, or computer spy virus, I pray you dedicate your STEM training to making this world a better place. And if you find yourself faced with a dilemma similar to that of techie Edward Snowden, I pray that you will have the courage to take a risk and protect the public from the dangers of technology.
So son, for this Father’s Day, promise me you will innovate, that using STEM and strong values as your tools, you’ll go out into the world and do well and do good.
Talib I. Karim is an engineer, lawyer, and director of STEM4US!, an organization dedicated to inspiring youth and their parents to embrace STEM education and careers. Talib is also the author of an upcoming book “Letters to My Son.”