If you have listened to today’s weather report, checked your blood-sugar levels or sent a text on your smartphone, you have benefitted from the innovation and impact of STEM-related careers.

STEM is not just a buzzword for educators and politicians. STEM is a critical competency for tomorrow’s leaders who rely on scientific literacy, problem solving and creative-thinking. The U.S. Department of Commerce reports a 24 percent increase in STEM careers in the last decade compared to 4 percent for non-STEM careers. While STEM opportunities consistently land in the Hoosier Hot 50 listing of top jobs in Indiana, many companies report challenges in hiring individuals with these skill sets. The response from educators in Indiana–and across the country–has been to double down on STEM education, which clearly is connected to career outcomes. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed in 2015, calls for states to emphasize STEM education in state-level curriculum. Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb has challenged Hoosier educators to craft the best K-12 plans in the country and encouraged high schools to fill this workforce void by partnering with vocational and career-training efforts across the state. These initiatives, both regional and national, emphasize the important shift taking place to bolster STEM education, and rightfully so.

The Brookings Institute and the Central Indiana Community Partnership recently told the Economic Club of Indiana that the future of Indianapolis is destined to be vibrant, collaborative and cutting edge; and they suggested innovation drives economic development, and talent dynamics drive the economy of innovation. For those of us who work to prepare future teachers, we continue to fortify STEM education in our schools and prepare students to lead this evolution.

The Teach (STEM)3 program at the University of Indianapolis offers an intense clinical experience designed to put passionate teachers in high-need STEM classrooms. In just one year, career changers or those with bachelor’s degrees in aligned fields can earn a master’s degree to then teach middle and secondary students and encourage them to embrace the wonders and opportunities STEM fields provide. The program recently received a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation, providing ample support for the right candidates to fill these roles and highlighting just one example of the national commitment to this initiative.

The pipeline of talent for our state starts in the classroom with dynamic, knowledgeable and dedicated teachers promoting a passion for what they do and the rich content they teach. STEM teachers empower today’s students to consider fields that drive innovation, technology and cutting-edge industries. While there is no magic pill to fill this gap in today’s workforce, finding the right educators to spark these interests at an early age positions Indiana to lead this charge in a way that benefits our students, our state and our economy.

Colleen S. Mulholland, Ed.D., NBCT, is Interim Dean and Associate Professor of Secondary Education at the University of Indianapolis School of Education.

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