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Beyond our Four Walls: The Importance of STEM to Support Next-Gen Careers

By Emma Fylstra and Siya Kulkarni, 2022 Governor's STEM Scholars

A future electrical engineer who aims to change how the world uses technology from Middlesex County. An aspiring psychologist dedicated to making a difference through the human mind from Toms River. An enthusiast for medical innovation and patient centered care from Morris County. These interests and incredible high school and college students all met at one place - the Governor’s STEM Scholars (GSS).

Out-of-school STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs - like the Governor's STEM Scholars - are important for encouraging students to aspire towards STEM careers and supply a much needed workforce. They help close gender and race gaps in STEM fields, where different perspectives strengthen innovation. And, these additional STEM experiences provide students with hands-on experiential learning that prepare them for careers in and out of STEM professions. To continue to prepare New Jersey’s students for their futures, programs that enhance STEM learning must be supported.

GSS is an innovative program that helps to secure the state’s STEM talent pipeline by showcasing what the state has to offer in STEM academic and professional opportunities to New Jersey’s high school and college students. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly one million STEM jobs will be added to the economy in the 2020s. And in New Jersey, there are 1.4 open STEM jobs in the state for every unemployed person. New Jersey has a long history of innovation, and to maintain that, it must keep and attract talented STEM professionals.

GSS consists of quarterly conferences, field trips and master classes. The conferences provide Scholars access to leading STEM voices in the state and to gain a greater understanding of STEM career pathways in New Jersey. Scholars build relationships with leading STEM professionals working in New Jersey, making connections that will carry them through their academic and professional lives.

STEM education helps bridge racial and gender gaps found in math and science fields. The gap in minority STEM representation is easy to see-only 8% of STEM workers are Hispanic, and 9% are Black; women constitute only 34% of the workforce, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. STEM innovation is strengthened when diverse people with unique perspectives tackle problems. GSS hopes to close these gaps by selecting a class of Scholars as diverse as the state. Out of the 100 current Scholars , 66 identify as female and 82 are students of color. The speakers are as varied as the Scholars, coming from different backgrounds, making sure every Scholar can see themselves in the STEM field.

In GSS, each Scholar participates in a research project to provide hands-on STEM learning. Current Scholars are tackling projects such as using machine learning to track online misinformation to coding artificial intelligence that identifies crop disease. This is where STEM programming - like GSS - provides the greatest benefit to students. Experiential learning opportunities help students put theories and lessons into practice, making for more productive problem solvers, who are able to create more capable solutions. The GSS research projects combine learning, technical skills and cooperation that allow Scholars to reach past the four walls of a classroom.

March is New Jersey STEM Month in New Jersey. Designated by Governor Murphy gubernatorial proclamation, it is a dedicated time to reflect on the state’s STEM accomplishments and look towards a future of innovation in New Jersey. It’s also during this time that GSS opens its applications for the 2022-2023 class of Scholars at

Many might say that New Jersey schools are the place for students to gain the passion for a STEM career, but it is programs - such as the Governor's STEM Scholars - that validate those passions and give students access to meaningful connections to propel them into their futures. The Governor’s STEM Scholars has connected us with mentors, peers, and resources that will guide and support that future..What's the most beautiful part? We all met at one place at the right time.

Siya Kulkarni is a senior at the Morris County School of Technology in the Academy for Healthcare Sciences. She aspires to enter healthcare and empower more women to join STEM related fields.

Emma Fylstra is a junior at Cumberland Regional High School, taking part in the STEM Academy. Both Siya and Emma are 2022 Governor’s STEM Scholars.


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