STEM Students: Past & Future promises for students in science and technology

Joselin Zuniga and Alberto Miranda Jr

Many haven’t heard of STEM, much less the program that we have here that starts from Unity Junior High, through Morton East High school. So who are the STEM students exactly, and what do they do?

Several published reports in the early 2000s brought attention to the dire need for U.S. students to increase their proficiency in STEM disciplines. At first, The National Science Foundation called it SMET but later changed it to STEM in 2001. The first explicit mention of STEM—using the acronym—seems to be in 2005. Representative Vernon Ehlers, a Republican from Michigan, and Representative Mark Udall, a Democrat from Colorado, had “set up the Science Technology Engineering and Math, or STEM, caucus” in Congress. Advancing to 2019, there were nearly 10.8 million workers in STEM occupations. As we know it, STEM education gives people skills that make them more employable and ready to meet the current labor demand. It encompasses the whole range of experiences and skills.

In a survey of 10 Morton East STEM students, six students declared that they were pursuing a major that is considered STEM related.

Here we have information on the STEM program as well as the students.

“Students are chosen for the STEM program through a recommendation process. The Unity teachers recommend students based on MAP scores and student skills and abilities. The Stem program is limited to 54 students. Two classes of 27 each,” Freshman Center Principal Wendy Mullen said.

At the start of the program, the students are 8th graders in Unity and attending two separate classes in the Freshmen Center. This can prove challenged for both schools and students.

“Some challenges of the program are technology-Unity uses Google and Morton uses Microsoft. Unity students are issued Chromebooks so the FC has to issue another laptop to them for use here. Transportation can be a challenge. Students are bussed here from Unity and sometimes they have issues with the buses. School Calendars not being the same causes the need to plan. For example-Unity has some days that students are in attendance but the FC students are not. Or more recently, the FC had a snow day while Unity was implementing remote learning. These issues all require very timely and specific communication between Unity and the FC,” Mullen said.

One may wonder, is the STEM program so hard that students choose to drop the program? That’s actually never been the case.

“We have only had 1 student drop from the STEM program each year. That was due to the student moving out of the district,” Mullen said.

A teacher never teaches just STEM students. We received insight if teachers could tell when they were teaching their regular grade level or the grade below – meaning they were in the STEM program. 

“Sophomore STEM students are new to campus and therefore more timid than junior students,” Pre-Calculus teacher Luke Brzostwoski said.

However, better said by Brzostwoski, STEM students don’t let their timid side overrun them when it comes to taking advanced math for their grade, they’re ready.

“ [I know] sophomore STEM students are prepared to take Precalculus for three main reasons, 1. Passed required placement test, 2. Strong math skills, 3. Diligent work habits and genuine interest in the subject,” Brzostowski said.

Not only does Brzostwoski see the students in a positive light, but the overall STEM program as well.

“The STEM program must continue.  Some benefits of learning advanced math [is to] gain knowledge, skills, and appreciation of different fields of mathematics such as calculus, number theory, abstract algebra, etc. This country needs more minority representation in STEM! The program provides Morton students with an opportunity to gain necessary math skills in order to compete for STEM careers of the future,” Brzostwoski said.

We’ve heard from staff, now we hear from STEM students themselves.

“What I liked was that we were given the opportunity to take accelerated math courses that followed through our later years in high school, like for precalc & calculus. I also feel like being in unity for 8th grade but taking two classes at the freshman center made us feel more comfortable with the building & some of their rules for when we would become freshman the following. However, I didn’t like that since the two schools were different districts. Sometimes we would have to go to the FC but not unity because there was no school. also the fact they had us taking zero hour [which starts at 6:55 am] & not the following STEM generation was bogus to us,” senior STEM student Itzel Barraza said.

Another STEM student couldn’t agree more.

“I liked that the STEM program challenged my academic skills. It was an opportunity to push my limits and learn about a subject, math, I am passionate about. Something I did not like as much was the time we had it at. As 8th graders, they had us start [at] 6:55, which although manageable, was tough at times,” senior in STEM Julissa Carreno said.

Everyone experiences stress, here are some tasks STEM students had to go through and how they managed in the program.

“We were required to complete multiple projects that other math classes didn’t have to make. This wasn’t just in 8th when we built the catapult or bridge, & gave presentations on them, but also as freshmen when we had to construct entire model houses. It was definitely stressful but I think the fact we were surrounded by people who were on the same boat helped a lot. We all had similar stress & we helped each other through it because all of the STEM kids were in the same class,” Itzel said.

One confided in her peers, while another confided within herself and her educators whenever necessary.

“In the program, stress was inevitable. It was challenging in itself to be taking advanced math courses, but attempting to keep an A was another task in hand. This is especially true once it came to harder courses, such as AP Calculus BC. However, the best way I managed stress was by staying on track with my homework and studying. This way, I knew I was going in prepared for quizzes and tests, However, reaching out for help was also helpful,” Julissa said.

Word around may say that STEM students think of themselves as almighty, better than those not in the program, however, this was not the case.

“I don’t necessarily believe we’re smarter, just that we worked for it more. I know there’s a couple people who are definitely smart but they dont put in the effort they would need in order to have been chosen to be a part of STEM. I also think that mindset would have still followed them even if they had gotten into STEM because some bad habits are hard to break. We were chosen for our intelligence but stayed because of our effort,”Itzel said.

Another concurred.

“I don’t believe I am smarter than those not in STEM. Stem focuses on challenging your math skills, and science skills in 8th grade. Every student has different abilities and tasks [where] they are better than others. I am probably one of the worst artists out there, but I know my math skills are strong. Everyone just has their own thing,” Julissa said.

Other than having the opportunity to learn at a higher level than normal, the benefits went beyond that for these students.

“Being in STEM really allowed me to branch out more than I expected. Most of the friends I have right now are because of the fact we were all in STEM together & have very similar values & goals. Just how [my friends and I] found each other, the rest of my peers have also found some great friends within our STEM class. STEM is always something we will have in common & can go back & relate to. We share memories that go back years & I think that bonds us for years to come,” Itzel said.

Another also emphasizes on the impact of her peers.

“I believe my STEM peers are some of the best students I have met. In a sense, Stem was able to bring us together and persuaded us to build close bonds with people in the STEM program. Personally, I built a strong friendship that follows me till today, where we push each other to do our best and succeed, which we learned from a young age,” Julissa said.

STEM seniors are on their way out, one might think that they will pursue a career in STEM but that is not always the case. Here we have a response in spanish.

“Yo espero estudiar para ser enfermera, que no es parte del sector de STEM. Sin embargo, creo que la enfermería, así como muchas otras especializaciones/carreras, deberían ser parte de STEM. uno pensaría que, como enfermeras, que usan las matemáticas, la tecnología y la ciencia de forma regular, sería parte del sector, pero así no es. No sé cómo se clasifican las carreras cuando se trata de STEM, pero en mi opinión, sé que estar en el programa STEM aquí ayudará a que mi futuro prospere,” senior STEM student Joselin Zuniga said.

Another student has a very different career in mind.

“I plan to major in computer science. Really foreign and unique, I know. I do think that the STEM program helped me consider the major more, but it was more so online learning that helped me see that the computer science majors lifestyle would suit me. Online learning and my sister helped me choose my major. Working on a computer is kinda nice, I realized. Plus my sister pushed me to look into computer science,” senior STEM student Eduardo Morales said.