Supporting Your Student in Their Career Path
Advice from Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics (CSTEM) Department
You know your adult child. You know their strengths, weaknesses, motivations, and experiences. Because of this, you can remind them of their strengths and motivations when they question their abilities, and you can challenge them to take risks and try new ways of working to reach their goals. Your reminders and challenges can support your student through college to a career that requires a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) degree.
The number of students pursuing STEM degrees has increased over the last few years. STEM degrees offer high-paying and interesting careers. They offer professionals the ability to work just about anywhere and to contribute to worthwhile projects. But while many students come to college believing that a STEM diploma will open doors to exciting and lucrative careers, it would be a big mistake to think of college as a checklist of courses leading to a diploma and career. Rather, from the time they pass through the EWU Pillars until they walk across the stage at commencement, students should be exploring two other important areas of career preparation.
The first area is exploring where they are going and how to get there. There are many STEM careers your student may not know exist but are interesting and fulfilling careers. Decades ago, as a first-generation student majoring in mathematics, it never occurred to me to explore careers afforded by a math degree. I assumed that people who liked and majored in math became math teachers, so I expected to teach. In my last quarter of college, I overheard two other students describing their career aspirations to be actuaries, a career commonly pursued by those with math degrees. I’ve since learned about the many careers for which any single degree can prepare students. Biotechnologist, geoscientist, and actuary are careers rarely discussed in high school but that offer amazing work environments and opportunities for creativity, impact, and growth. EWU abounds with resources for students to deepen their understanding of these and many other professions. Encourage your student to use at least one of these services each quarter, and ask them about their experiences:
- Examine the Career Center website to learn about resources, then make an appointment with a career advisor to ask more specific questions.
- Join the Eagle Career Network and reach out to EWU graduates who have careers that sound interesting. EWU graduates enjoy sharing their professional knowledge with current students!
- Attend events that highlight careers. Departments often bring in speakers who describe their professions. Your student should keep a list of questions they might ask professionals: What do you love about your work? What are the most challenging aspects of your work and how do you handle those?
- Attend networking events and career fairs to meet professionals one-on-one. As a parent, you can help your student prepare questions to ask professionals, and also help them practice introducing themselves as they will in professional situations.
- Enroll in at least one internship. Many STEM internships are paid and can also count for credit in a degree.
- Join professional organizations as a student member; many of these offer mentoring and reduced rates for students to attend conferences. They should ask their faculty advisor about the possibility of the department or college to help fund their conference attendance.
- Join clubs and organizations at EWU related to their career interests. Clubs and organizations often work with industry professionals on projects and regularly provide connections to those professionals.
The second important area for your student is exploring and building their interests, strengths, and transferrable skills. STEM work involves far more than technical skills. College is a time to build broader skills needed in all professions: life-long learning and inquiry, critical thinking, collaboration, leadership, perseverance, and interpersonal skills. Throughout college, students should seek opportunities to build these skills, identify when they are using them, and reflect on ways to improve them.
All transferrable skills are important for STEM careers, but one, in particular, is necessary for STEM students while still in college: academic perseverance. A few years ago, when my oldest son was in college, he called to explain that he needed to drop an engineering class that had a particular computer science programming prerequisite. He was just lost and his closest friend had already dropped the class. I knew he had never confronted the possibility of trying hard at something but still failing – a scenario encountered in STEM professions. Instead of permitting him to drop the class, though, I told him to go to every class, to the instructor’s office hours, and to find ways to learn the material. My son stayed in the class and passed it with exactly the grade he needed to move on in his program. Unfortunately, too many students drop classes and their dreams before they’ve used all the resources available.
Another transferrable skill bears special attention. STEM employers currently seek employees from diverse backgrounds; they have recognized that diversity in workplaces leads to more innovation. This means all students must learn to thrive in diverse work environments.
- We naturally seek the company of people who are similar to us. Encourage your student to join groups and make friends with people who have different backgrounds and interests than they do, and to try to understand how others may have developed their perspectives.
- As your student describes their experiences, note the types of skills they used. Describe the skills back to them and encourage them to keep a journal of stories of how they used specific skills. For example, if your student uses leadership skills in a class project or club event, they should journal about the effects of that leadership. These are stories they’ll be able to use in interviews as they describe their strengths.
- Similarly, encourage your student to join clubs and professional organizations that could advance important skills and to keep an all-encompassing resume that describes those experiences, the specific skills they used, and the effects of their efforts.
- Ask your student about their roles in groups to which they belong (classes, clubs, etc.) and how those roles have affected group norms. For example, do they help other members feel more valued and comfortable in the group? This is an important skill professionals use in work environments striving to benefit from diverse workforces. Other roles might be advocating for a group benefit or asking questions that others are afraid to ask. This is the kind of risk-taking college students should engage in.
- Help your student build skills of persevering academically by using these skills:
- Join or organize a study group. They will build collaboration skills and a support network for tough classes.
- Go talk to their instructor during office hours. Help them practice introducing themselves and asking questions.
- Join a Discord site. Many STEM students use Discord to discuss assignments and what to study for exams.
- Make an appointment for academic coaching or tutoring, and check out the other services offered by EWU PLUS.
- Respond to their fears of not being able to perform academically by asking them what they’ve tried and encouraging them to see their instructor to ask about more effective ways to study.
College is much more than a piece of paper or a collection of credits. The benefits of college lie in their experiences, their relationships with peers, staff, and instructors, and in becoming a reflective person who is aware of their impact on others. As a parent, you have reveled in your child’s uniqueness for at least 18 years. When they are in college, your job continues as you remind them of their strengths and build skills to face challenges to reach their goals.
College of Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics
319 Computing & Engineering Building
1075 Washington Street
Cheney, WA 99004
601 E Riverside Avenue
Spokane, WA 99201
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