here are 5.16 billion people who use phones around the world, while over 1 billion travel by car. Over the years, NASA has sent 4 rovers to Mars. The Universal Flu Shot, a groundbreaking medical advance, could show up in the next 10 years. The future is here, scientific exploration is growing, and it requires an expanded understanding of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).
During this difficult time in the Covid-19 Pandemic, the rapid increase of International STEM students joining undergraduate and graduate studies in the U.S. has nearly halted. This is a large issue considering the following:
International students make up 5.5% of the total U.S. higher education population (USA today).
Over 1 million international students were enrolled in the academic year 2017-2018.
In the past few decades, international STEM students increased by 315%
70% of the international STEM students come from these top 10 countries: China, India, Saudi Arabia, S. Korea, Iran, Nepal, Taiwan, Vietnam, Kuwait, and Canada. (Source: U.S. Department of Education).
One question to ask is, what will the consequences of their absences be in the years to come? STEM is never ending field, as we are always developing and expanding on new ideas. But as our knowledge in need of growing fast, the number of those behind the knowledge is beginning to decrease. Currently, only 16% of high school graduates are interested in a career in STEM (Brookings Institution). The main question we must ask ourselves is, how can we motivate our own domestic students to fill the current gap?
Almost all the international students who join in a graduate program receive a full tuition waiver in the STEM field. Along with taking graduate classes, they receive part time employment not exceeding 20 hours per week as graduate teaching/research assistants in their respective departments. Mathematics, in particular, has a vast majority of graduate students who are employed in the math department because of increasing number of math classes. In fact, no matter what major a student is in, they are more likely required to take basic mathematics courses, which increases the number of classes that need to be taught. Thus, the current situation requires those gaps to be filled by our domestic students to sustain higher education.
For international students to get admitted in the fall, graduate schools in the U.S. need to start offering graduate teaching/research assistantship from January to May. However, universities were unable to send these offers out of the country due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Even if they had the chance to send out offers, the odds that many international students would be able to join the Fall of 2020 are very slim. This leaves us with a huge problem we must face, and more importantly, solve. To fill in the gap of international students in higher education, it is essential to mobilize the existing manpower and resources inside of the country. The question is, how can we do so? Simple, the most feasible solution is by targeting students who have recently graduated from a four-year undergraduate program and make them aware of the benefits of graduate programs in various disciplines. These benefits extend not only to themselves and their families, but also to the future of the STEM field and universal love of learning.
Taking action starts now. But who can contribute to this awareness project and make an impact? First, undergraduates themselves can play a primary role in making their colleagues aware of the golden opportunities and doors that higher education opens. Secondly, university professors, policy makers, and parents play a crucial role not only in inspiring and motivating them to continue forward, but also in supporting them to grasp every new opportunity when it appears. They will not only be partially employed while in graduate school but can also earn a higher degree through scholarships that can result in paying minimal to no tuition contributions.
In the long run, four-year college professors can play a primary role in generating resources for undergraduates and thus motivate them towards higher education in STEM. But first, the big question is, can this motivation start earlier on? And are learning techniques adopted by high school STEM teachers currently enough for high school graduates? One way to motivate students early on is that professors can create a collaborative environment with high school teachers in the process of teaching and learning. They can also create an inspiring environment in which STEM education can thrive; involving real-world applications in a research prospective is crucial, so students will be prepared for employment or for joining graduate schools.
The future of STEM grows daily. 65% of our world remains undiscovered, and we have mapped only 5% of the world's seafloor in detail (sentient media). The planets, stars, and galaxies that we can view make up only 4% of the universe, the other 96% remains unknown. (space.com) The building blocks of it all lie with the marvelous advances of STEM. Most importantly, they lie with those who not only dream of the wonders of science, but also make it a reality.
We have many challenges ahead of us, such as finding a solution to climate change and energy crisis, curing cancer, genetically editing a patient to cure a disease or disability, and inhabiting a sustainable planet beyond Earth. Making these things possible requires every individual to recognize the importance of STEM and the impact it has and will continue to have on mankind for centuries to come. They require younger generations to step up and for educators to continue to motivate them to do so. Every scientific advancement begins and ends with a love for learning. As American minister Malcolm X. says, "Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today."