The Best Colleges for STEM “Nerds”


Increasing the number of college graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields by 1 million in one decade is a lofty goal put forth by President Obama, but one that the he thinks is necessary for the nation to have a strong economy. The idea is that it will increase job opportunities for young Americans.

With the increasing threat of cyber attacks and the integral role science and technology can play in boosting the economy and bolstering national security, many experts agree that STEM education is necessary. Numerous high schools are ramping up their science and technology curriculum to help earlier prepare America’s students for the future needs in STEM.

Higher education institutions across America have also recognized this need and many have implemented strategies to attract and encourage students to pursue degrees in STEM disciplines. Through methods such as grants, outreach programs, and specific recruiting strategies, several colleges and universities have strived to be a great fit for STEM students, “nerdy” or not.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

This private university was ranked No. 1 by U.S. News & World Report for Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs in which the highest engineering degree offered is a doctorate. MIT’s faculty members are sprinkled with Fulbright Scholars and Nobel-prize winners.

MIT offers a year round academic program through the MIT Office of Engineering Outreach Programs for middle school students who are interested in math and science and want to get ahead in these areas. Through the STEM Summer Institute, middle school students are engaged for five weeks of lectures, projects, and experiments taught by MIT undergraduates. Participants learn college-level material. Students can also participate in a nine-month Mentoring Program in which undergraduate and graduate students of MIT serve as mentors and partner with families, teachers, program staff members, and the community.

Tuskegee University

Tuskegee University is a historically black institution of higher education located in Alabama that enrolls more than 3,000 students. It is a great school for minorities who plan to pursue an education in a STEM field.

The university is a top producer of the nation’s black veterinarians, with 75% of black veterinarians in the U.S. being Tuskegee graduates. The school also produces the most black aerospace science engineers in the nation and is the largest producer of blacks with bachelor’s degrees in math, science, and engineering in Alabama.

Tuskegee is also a part of the Math and Science Partnership with several other universities, community colleges, school districts, and STEM centers that was formed to help Alabama’s middle school students achieve in the field of science.

Harvey Mudd College

This small, private liberal arts institution located in Claremont, Calif., is well-known for engineering, science, and mathematics. U.S. News & World Report ranks Harvey Mudd College second for having the Best Undergraduate Engineering Program in which a doctoral degree is not offered.

Mudd takes a liberal arts approach to STEM by including a common core curriculum that provides a solid foundation in math and science. Students aren’t required to select a major until the end of their sophomore year. The school offers a choice of nine STEM-based majors.

Though the school enrolls slightly less than 800 students, Mudd has made significant efforts to attract women into STEM fields to increase diversity. These efforts were spearheaded by the school’s president Maria Klawe, who saw a distinct need for more women in computer science. Since Klawe came to the college, there has been an increase in female computer science graduates.

Texas A&M University

Texas A&M University in College Station enrolls more than 50,000 students and ranks first in the state for student retention and graduation rates—both overall and for minorities. The university is also a leader in STEM education. In 2010, the school set a strategic goal to increase graduation rates, especially among STEM graduates.

The purpose of the 25 by 25 initiative is to increase access for qualified students to pursue engineering education. The goal is for A&M to enroll 25,000 engineering students by 2025. This initiative aims to address a growing demand in Texas and the nation for more engineers. Some members of Congress have already showed their support for the initiative.

The plan to carry out the initiative includes growing enrollments at the undergraduate and graduate levels, improving retention of engineering students, and expanding partnerships with community colleges to increase the number of transfer students.

University of Connecticut

UConn is Connecticut’s flagship public university and enrolls more than 30,000 students. Several of the school’s engineering programs are top-ranked. UConn’s chemical engineering programs are ranked second in student outcomes and 12th in academic jobs, while materials science ranked fourth in diversity and fifth in placement rate. Recently, it was announced that the university would receive a $1.5 billion investment to support campus expansion and generate jobs.

The purpose of the proposal, known as Next Generation Connecticut, is to expand educational opportunities, research, and innovation in STEM disciplines at UConn for the next 10 years. Goals of the 10-year plan include hiring 200 new STEM faculty; building STEM facilities to house materials for science, physics, biology, engineering, cognitive science, genomics, and related disciplines; constructing new STEM teaching laboratories; and creating a premier STEM honors program.

Additionally, the proposal aims to expand the School of Engineering by increasing enrollment by 70% and a 47% expansion in the total number of STEM graduates.

Kapiolani Community College

The STEM Program at Kapiolani Community College (KCC) aims to improve quality of education in STEM fields through various outreach programs, one being the Summer Bridge Program. The program brings together high school students, college students as peer mentors, and college faculty to help students prepare for the rigors of college math and science. The program participants engage daily in a math prep class as well as an hour allotted for collaborative study. Upon completion of the program, participants may be eligible for a STEM research internship or a peer mentorship.

KCC, which enrolls more than 7,100 students each year in for-credit programs and enrolls about 25,000 students in its not-for-credit programs, is a recipient of the National Science Foundation’s S-STEM grant, which funds scholarships to select students pursuing STEM careers. KCC’s STEM Program offers several student scholarships, as well.

Expanding Diversity

In addition to its economic impact, significant efforts have been made to attract groups that have historically been underrepresented in STEM fields, such as women and minorities — namely Hispanics and blacks. Reports have shown minorities are often underrepresented due in large part to a lack of equality in educational opportunities.

There are numerous scholarships available for underrepresented groups who want to study in STEM disciplines. A few include:

  • Blacks at Microsoft: This $5,000 scholarship is awarded to two black high school seniors interested in pursuing careers in technology.
  • Gates Millennium Scholars: Each year, these scholarships are provided to 1,000 minority students studying in STEM.
  • National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering: This scholars program provides block grants to colleges and universities that in turn give the money to talented black, American Indian, and Latino students enrolled in engineering programs as part of their financial aid packages.
  • National Society of Black Physicists: This organization awards three scholarships, each worth $1,000, to black physics majors in their junior or senior year.
  • Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers Foundation: Scholarships are awarded in the amount of $1,000 to $5,000 to high school graduating Latino seniors, college undergrads and graduate students with an aptitude for a career in a STEM field.
  • The Center for Women in Technology: Scholarships are available to women at The University of Maryland Baltimore County majoring in computer science, information systems, business technology administration (with a technical focus), computer engineering, mechanical engineering, or chemical/biochemical/environmental engineering.

The Future of STEM

STEM occupations are expected to grow in coming years, and there’s currently a shortage in the workforce for qualified employees. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, biomedical engineers are expected to grow by 62% by 2020, a rate much faster than average.

Nationally, there is also a shortage of math and science teachers, and some school superintendents are considering significantly raising teachers’ salaries to attract more STEM teachers.

Students who choose to pursue a STEM degree in college typically develop an interest in science and technology at an early age. That’s why it’s important to encourage and help young students discover their passion in the field. Organizations like Citizen Schools, a national nonprofit that partners with middle schools to lengthen the school day for children in low-income communities, are being proactive in introducing STEM to young students. Through the Catalyst Initiative, STEM professionals will teach thousands of middle school students across the U.S. for the next three years.

There’s also the nonprofit MATHCOUNTS, which provides challenging math programs for the nation’s middle school students. The MATHCOUNTS program has received two White House citations as an outstanding private sector initiative. Additionally, events like The White House Science Fair allow young students a platform to showcase their talents and achievements in STEM education. Many believe science fairs are still the key to innovations in science, engineering, and technology.

The anticipated need for graduates competent in science and technology coupled with pointed efforts to educate them will help address the shortage of a skilled STEM workforce population. Higher education institutions have taken note of this and being proactive and innovative in their approaches to STEM students.

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