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What is STEM?

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Public Policy in Engineering Education

Tagged Division

Engineering and Public Policy

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1684.1 - 22.1684.9



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Paper Authors

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David A. Koonce Ohio University

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Jie Zhou Ohio University


Cynthia D. Anderson Ohio University

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Cynthia Anderson is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of Graduate Studies at Ohio University. In addition to research on community college faculty, Dr. Anderson has published research on inequality, labor markets, rural communities, and gender.

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Dyah A. Hening

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Valerie Martin Conley Ohio University

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What is STEM?For many researchers, the term STEM stands for the four primary discipline families of Science,Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. However, many organizations, institutes, andresearchers do not have a clear classification of the specific disciplines that comprise STEM. Theterm STEM is widely used by funding agencies, academia, consortia and governmental agenciesas varied as NSF and ICE; but the definitions across these organizations are inconsistent, vague orsimply not provided. This paper clarifies what is STEM, and what is not, by analyzing existingSTEM definitions from two perspectives: education and occupation. Educational definitions ofSTEM are collected from government entities, university programs, research institutes andnot-for-profit organizations. These definitions are mapped, individually, into six digit CIP codes.Occupational STEM definitions are collected from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as well as othergovernment and nongovernment organizations. These definitions are mapped into SOC codes.What is clear from these mappings is that no single definition of STEM fits the needs of everyorganization. For example, areas like the health sciences and agriculture are not universallyrecognized as STEM. This may be because the research organization does not fund health science,or the university does not have an agriculture college. And, math intensive disciplines likequantitative business analysis and economics are rarely or never recognized as STEM. But acrossthese definitions, there are disciplines and occupations which occur with high frequency andusing this foundation, we offer a four-tier classification scheme for STEM disciplines in curriculaand occupations.This paper presents a definition of STEM from both a curriculum and occupation perspective,which can be consistently applied across organizations. However, some organizations have validreasons for including, disciplines and occupations which are generally not considered STEM (orexcluding). It is hoped that this definition can aid researchers in STEM education and occupationbetter understand what is STEM, and why.

Koonce, D. A., & Zhou, J., & Anderson, C. D., & Hening, D. A., & Conley, V. M. (2011, June), What is STEM? Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18582

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