Do you know why engineering is important in STEM? It’s probably why you’re here so if not, don’t worry. It’s a tough question to answer, especially if you’re not familiar with engineering or STEM. To get straight down to the answer without you having to search through all the resources out there, I decided to break it down for you in what I hope to be a helpful post.
Why is engineering important in STEM? STEM is an integrated approach to learning. Engineering is what connects the disciplines. Engineers seek solutions to problems then apply scientific knowledge and mathematics to design, build, and maintain technologies to solve the problems.
A thing to note about engineering is that since its definition can be interpreted in different ways, its importance in STEM may be misunderstood. Its dictionary definition can be too complex, while the definition given by engineers themselves may be too simplified.
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What Is Engineering?
When asked what engineering is, people may think that it means putting things together to make useful items. Perhaps it’s because of “McGyver” or because usually, the only engineers that are seen are the ones on Youtube building robots. While it is true that engineers put things together to make useful items, there is a lot more to it.
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines engineering as “the application of science and mathematics by which the properties of matter and the sources of energy in nature are made useful to people.”
The National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) defines engineering as “the creative application of scientific principles used to plan, build, direct, guide, manage, or work on systems to maintain and improve our daily lives.”
An engineer answering a question on Quora defined engineering as “the application of mathematics and science to solve problems.” Note that this is the most simplified version of the three and solving problems in math or science class does not mean that students are doing engineering. The traditional way of teaching math and science often gives students word problems that are too simplistic, have little relation to the world around them, and are one-dimensional. Engineers derive problems from the world in which they live.
Each definition is to be taken into account because of where they came from but we should also take a look at their similarities and differences to get a better perspective of engineering. All three versions mention the application of science and two directly mention mathematics but they all end differently. NSPE’s definition is much like the Quora engineer’s definition because improving daily lives requires solving problems big or small.
According to a report done by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the goal of technology is not just to solve a problem, it is also to make the problem easier to solve in the future. Now, take a look at the definitions again and notice where technology fits in. Engineering, put simply, is used to create technology. Without engineering, there would be no technology.
With that, you should now start to understand engineering’s role in STEM. This is, of course, just the beginning because now you should know what STEM is rather than just what its letters stand for. In case you didn’t know, it’s much more than that.
What Is STEM?
If you’ve read any of my previous articles on STEM, you would know that STEM is not simply just an acronym that stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. It is a path with a wide educational beginning that narrows down as we get closer to a career.
STEM education is a style of teaching and learning through practical projects that involve relating all of its subjects to build real-world skills. Because the STEM model teaches in an integrative style, students attain a foundation of skills required in an increasingly dynamic labor market driven by innovation.
A STEM job focuses on one of its particular fields, but usually, require skills and knowledge in its other fields.
How Is Engineering Important In STEM Education?
Now that we have a general understanding of what engineering is and what STEM is, we can get to understand their relationship with one another.
If STEM was a body, engineering would be its heart. In our bodies, blood goes into the heart then gets pumped out to reach vital organs. In STEM, scientific data goes into the engineering process where it gets calculated out to become technology.
This metaphor is more powerful at the educational phase of STEM. As pointed out earlier, STEM education integrates the disciplines to form a foundation for a future career. Classroom STEM projects often include using scientific data to mathematically design something that solves a problem.
By its nature, engineering can be seen as the bridge that connects STEM. Without some form of engineering, there would be no technology so science would just be science and math would still just be math.
How Is Engineering Important In STEM Jobs?
We have determined that engineering is very important to STEM education. Knowing that STEM jobs narrow down to a particular field, does engineering still hold on to that same importance at this more focused point of the STEM path?
The short answer is no but it varies with the increasingly large number of STEM jobs and it depends on how you look at it. A scientist’s job may require some engineering to help find further data but it would be a small part concerning their main focus. The same goes for mathematicians.
If you look at the results of their jobs, the importance of engineering may be higher than the rest of the fields. A scientist may be needed to gather trustworthy data used by an engineer to create new technology.
It is obvious that engineering is important to an engineering job but if we flip it around and ask how STEM is important in engineering jobs, the degree of importance may vary even more due to the number of different types of engineering jobs. Sound engineers may require less scientific data and little math while biomedical engineers require more scientific data and significantly higher levels of math.
What Are Examples of STEM Engineering Jobs?
- Aerospace Engineering
- Agricultural Engineering
- Automotive Engineering
- Computer Engineering
- Electrical Engineering
- Environmental Engineering
- Marine Engineering
- Mechanical Engineering
- Software Engineering
What is the STEM Engineering Process?
- Ask what the problem is
- Imagine and plan a solution
- Create the model
- Test the model
- Redesign the model with improvements
- Repeat the process if needed