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House Bill Aims to Increase STEM Awareness

Two weeks ago, the Missouri state Legislature passed House Bill 3, which will create new policies to promote STEM education across the state.

STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math. According to the Pew Research Center, STEM careers are some of the fastest-growing jobs in the country. Since 1990, employment in STEM occupations has grown 79 percent.

But in Missouri, there’s a supply problem.

According to the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, the state has more than 10,000 open STEM jobs, and not enough people to fill them.

That’s where House Bill 3 comes in. It aims to increase participation by introducing young Missourians to STEM earlier.

The first part of the bill creates the “STEM Career Awareness Program” for middle schoolers.

Tojan Rahhal is an assistant professor of biomedical, biological and chemical engineering at the University of Missouri and runs its STEM Cubs program for grade schoolers. She says it’s important to introduce children to STEM activities at a young age.

“We already know from the research that by third grade young girls can make up their mind that they hate math, and it could be for no reason other than they just hate math,” Rahhal said. “Every time we’ve done this camp we are constantly surprised how many students, how many kids K through fifth have never been to a STEM camp before.”

The other part of the bill focuses on computer science by requiring the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to craft K-12 computer science standards. It also creates a teacher certification in the subject and would allow high schoolers to substitute a computer science course for a core math, science or practical arts credit with a parent’s permission.

Missouri State Senator Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, was the only senator to vote against the bill. She said allowing students to skip a STEM subject to take a different STEM subject is contradictory and could actually hurt students by making them take math courses they might’ve missed in high school. She said the remedial courses could keep students in college longer, raising their student debt.

She also added that language in the bill could lead to ethical dilemmas when it comes to deciding which company gets the state’s STEM contract.

But Katie Hendrickson, the director of State Government Affairs for Code.org, a nonprofit dedicated to expanding access to computer science in schools, said the bill will help, because STEM is becoming increasingly important in our lives.

“Governor Parson has been going around the state talking about how important technology is, and how you’re only going to be successful in agriculture if you know computer science,” Hendrickson said. “Because that’s just the way that things are changing. You program your tractors now. So, this bill will really elevate computer science.”

The new policies are scheduled to go into effect next fall at the start of the 2019-2020 school year, after Governor Parson signs the bill into law.