[E-mailed in question]: How can we promote growth in the STEM fields without putting humanities on the back burner?
The President: Well, first of all, I want to say, I was a humanities major. So... I majored in political science, I majored in English. I was pretty good in math. I actually loved math and science until I got into high school and I misspent those years. And the thing about humanities was, you could talk your way through classes which you couldn't do in math and science, right? So a great liberal arts / humanities education is still critically important because in today's global economy, one of the most important skills you have is the ability to work with people and communicate clearly and effectively.
Having said that, what is also true is that technology is going to continue to drive innovation and just to be a good citizen, you need some background in STEM. And we are not producing enough engineers, enough computer scientists, enough math teachers and science teachers, and enough researchers. And so I'm putting a big emphasis on STEM in part because we have a shortage, not because I'm privileging one over the other but because we don't have as many people going into the STEM fields.
And it starts early. Part of what we're trying to do is work with public schools to take away some of the intimidation factor of math and science. Part of what we're trying to do is to make sure we're reaching to demographics that are very underrepresented. And, yes, I mean you, women. Girls are still more likely to be discouraged in pursuing math, science, technology degrees. You see that imbalance in Silicon Valley, you see that imbalance in a lot of high-tech firms.
We're trying to lift up curriculums that are interesting for kids, work with schools in terms of best practices. One of the things that we're also discovering is that young people who have an interest in math and science, often times they're steered into finance because that's been perceived as the more lucrative option. And we're trying to work with universities and departments of engineering, for example, to help mentor young people to understand that if you look at the top 100 companies in the country, you've got a lot more engineers running companies than folks who have a finance background.
So there are great opportunities. So that's one of the things that every young person should be thinking about: A) what's their passion - what do they care about? But they should also be taking a look at, where's there a demand? And frankly, if you've got a science or engineering background, the likelihood of you being unemployed is very low. And it doesn't preclude you from you know, writing haiku at some point and figuring out some creative outlet. But having that discipline and skill set is still going to be invaluable.This is a frustrating thing to hear from the President. I have my differences with him and his Administration's policies (perhaps not a surprise), but I think that he's an intelligent, honorable man who genuinely tries to do what he thinks is best for the country. Let's recap what he has revealed he thinks:
- The country is "not producing enough engineers, enough computer scientists, enough math teachers and science teachers and enough researchers."
- The country has a shortage of STEM workers.
- This shortage has to do with students being discouraged from thinking about STEM as a career path, especially women.
- This shortage is exacerbated by STEM students going into finance.
- If you've got a science or engineering background, the likelihood of you being unemployed is very low.
But President Obama is apparently aware of the travails of lawyers, considering his statement in the next part of the conversation:
...by the way, we have enough lawyers. It's a fine profession. I can say that because I'm a lawyer.We all have our own perspectives, I guess. He's probably talked to a lot of law school grads who've had trouble finding work than unemployed scientists.
*Relevant section starts at 14:30, goes to 18:00.