By Gureni Lukwaro
If you are in your last years of high school and thinking about college, a choice as to which university to go to is a big question. But perhaps a bigger than that, is the question of what major will you want to do. To get the right answers to those questions, you have to put a lot of things into consideration, things like what would you like to do? What are your interests? What things interests you? What areas of study you are strong in? What career paths do various majors offer? What are job prospects for these career paths? These and other questions, may help you narrow down both the major you may want to pursue, as well as the university you want to pursue it in.
Over the past decade or so, the academic disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) have become popular topics in education policy and curriculum planning. These courses are considered to be the bedrock and the foundations of the industrial and corporate world. But as the needs for more STEM professionals increased, the number of students pursuing these subjects was decreasing. This led to the increased promotion of these courses to encourage more young people to take this subjects and fill in the STEM skill gap in both industrial and corporate worlds.
Governments and public sector are also interested to attract STEM professionals as these skills can also contribute to the technological leadership, economic performance and GDP growth of the countries that take advantage of them.
One of the most important features of STEM education is that the programs integrate concepts that are usually taught as separate subjects in different classes and emphasizes the application of knowledge to real-life situations. This gives the knowledge, skills and the necessary experience to STEM graduates to become critical thinkers and to be able to face and provide practical solutions to many of the world pressing challenges that affects people, communities, businesses and governments.
As a result, STEM, as an area of education, has become one of the fastest growing areas in terms of courses available and it is also a high paying area that offers students and graduates greater opportunities to shape a brighter future. These opportunities results from the fact that:
- 80% of jobs in the next decade will require technology skills
- 16% of all bachelor degrees confered in 2020 are expected to specialize in STEM
- 68% of US students currently studying STEM said they are doing so because it’s stimulating and challenging
- 68% said it was because of salary opportunities
- 66% said due to job potential
- Unemployment rate for STEM workers went from 1.8% to 5.3% while non-STEM workers went from 4.8% to 10%
- Over the past 10 years, growth in STEM jobs was 10 times more than any other industry
The region and the United Arab Emirates in specific, has recognized the need and have taken steps to take advantage of the opportunities provided by STEM education. The UAE has made a strategic plans to educate and encourage UAE-based students to consider STEM education. For example:
- Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) will focus on STEM education from the early childhood to Cycle 3 (high school) and on to higher education and post graduate education
- ADEC will transform KG children’s story books to include stories about science and technology.
- ADEC’s Innovation Initiatives will be implemented as a partnership between the schools, higher education and industry.
- The initiatives include building innovation hubs, developing programming skills for producing new applications, forming innovation clubs in every school, bringing Science and Technology experts into the classrooms through the Innovation Ambassador program, and participating in the Abu Dhabi Young Scientist Initiative that builds a culture of innovation through competition.
The goal is to create and educate home-grown scientists, technology experts and engineers who will, in turn, support industries like cultural tourism, aviation, manufacturing, media, health care, petrochemical, financial services, renewable energy, space, etc.
To cope with the demand, universities such as American University of Sharjah (AUS), have created courses and degree programs to cater to the needs of STEM education. AUS offers a number of STEM degrees such as:
- Bachelor of Science in Biology
- Bachelor of Science in Chemistry
- Bachelor of Science in Environmental Sciences
- Bachelor of Science in Mathematics
- Bachelor of Science in Computer Science
- Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering
- Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering
- Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering
- Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering
- Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering
- Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering
- Bachelor of Science in Design Management
- Bachelor of Science in Multimedia Design
- Bachelor of Science in Visual Communication on the undergraduate level.
The American University of Sharjah Board of Trustees has just approved the launch of a new Bachelor of Science in Physics.
On the graduate level, American University of Sharjah offers:
- Master of Science in Mathematics
- Master of Science in Accounting
- Master of Science in Chemical Engineering
- Master of Science in Civil Engineering
- Master of Science in Computer Engineering
- Master of Science in Electrical Engineering
- Master of Science in Engineering Systems Management
- Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering
- Master of Science in Mechatronics Engineering
For student who are interested to pursue STEM education but cannot afford it due to financial difficulties, organizations such as The Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education are making funds available to qualifying students to be able to go to university and pursue STEM education.
The Foundation is devoted to equipping Arab youth with the knowledge and skills they need to fulfil their promise as the future leaders of the region. With an investment of 1.1 Billion USD (AED 4.2 Billion), it aims to provide high-achieving, underserved Emirati and Arab youth access to educational opportunities, through dedicated scholarship programs.
The Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education has committed to reaching a minimum of 15,000 promising Arab youth interested in pursuing STEM education over the next ten years, as well as supporting 5,000 high-achieving grade 11 and 12 Emirati students at public schools, preparing them to study STEM in top universities.
As much as it is exciting to push for STEM education, it is important, however, for academic institutions and other stakeholders to ensure that we do not repeat what has happened in the past, where, in our enthusiasm to promote STEM, we have left the liberal arts behind. Understandably, the push for STEM was triggered by market needs among other factors, however, a balance is needed, to avoid repeating a similar scenario in the future.
One method of achieving that is through setting education requirements for undergraduates that cover both areas of education. That is something that American University of Sharjah practices. Students at the AUS College of Engineering are required to complete courses in liberal arts, whilst at the same time ensuring that the quality of engineering-specific courses offered to them at AUS help them capable of competing with those of their international counterparts. Keeping market needs in mind, AUS offers a Master of Science in Engineering Systems Management degree, which provides students with business skills critical to their success as future engineers.
At American University of Sharjah, we understand that it is our responsibility to find a balance in supporting market needs and ensuring that we produce well-rounded graduates as well. For example, a science student can also be an artist, and at the same time, a journalism student can be fascinated by scientific experiments. We, humans, are complex beings, and our brains are created to allow us to experience multiple facets of this life. That is why at AUS we try not to condition our students into pursuing one interest, exclusive of another. Instead, we do our best to focus on providing an all-inclusive education, not only to avoid future gaps in the market, but to create a more interesting, and dynamic world to live in.