Careers in science, technology, engineering and math are being sought by employers now more than ever as technology changes every day.

Local school officials said they are encouraging both boys and girls to seek careers in those fields if they have an interest in it.

A recent survey by Junior Achievement conducted by the research group, Engine, showed that 9 percent of girls between ages 13 to 17 are interested in careers in STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics — which was conducted from April 16-21 to about 1,004 teenagers.

This is down from 11 percent from a similar survey in 2018. Teen boys’ interest in STEM careers increased to 27 percent, up from 24 percent in 2018.

Junior Achievement is a nonprofit organization that inspires and prepares young people to succeed in a global economy through volunteer-delivered kindergarten through 12th grade curriculum, according to its website. JA students are introduced to the elements of business start-ups, hands-on budgeting simulations, learn the difference between needs and wants and financial skills.

“The decline of interest in STEM careers is disappointing given how much emphasis is being placed on promoting STEM to girls,” JA Dallas President Jan Murfield said. “One element that may need to be emphasized more is ensuring that STEM professionals are serving as role models and working with girls in educational settings as part of these initiatives.”

A 2009 study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said that young people are interested in STEM at an early age but being to lose interest as they get older due to lack of interest with mentors and role models in STEM fields, according to JA.

Other survey findings include:

• 85 percent of teens say they know what kind of job they want after graduation, down slightly from 88 percent in 2018.

• While girls’ interest in STEM careers like engineering, robotics and computer science declined, their interest in careers in the medical and dental fields increased to 25 percent, up from 19 percent in 2018.

• Half of all teens — 51 percent — expect to work this summer. However, more than two-thirds of 16- and 17-year-olds — 69 percent — expect to have a summer job.

• Top summer jobs include retail (26 percent) and food service (26 percent). These are followed by outdoor work (17 percent) and babysitting/child care (14 percent). Very few (5 percent) anticipate working in an office over the summer.

Millsap ISD Assistant Superintendent Edie Martin said the decrease in girls interested in STEM careers could be a “natural variance.” Districts statewide are focusing more on providing quality STEM courses and exposing students to STEM careers than ever before, Martin said.

“We regret seeing any decline in girls interest in STEM careers, however, the decline becomes more concerning if the data reflects a downward trend overtime,” Martin said.

All three Millsap campuses have programs and courses that aim to enhance STEM skills, Martin said.

This past school year, Millsap Elementary School had a weekly STEM lab for students that focused on student exploration and featured hands-on activities, Martin said.

“In 2019-20, MES will enhance the STEM lab by aligning it more closely with the state science standards and will invite professionals in STEM fields to conduct demonstrations and share about their work with students,” Martin said.

Millsap High School offered medical courses and certifications, such as EKG and certified nurse’s assistant training, and STEM-focused courses like forensic science and health science theory during the 2018-19 school year, Martin said. Next year, a medical terminology course and a robotics course will be added among the offerings.

Next school year, MHS and Millsap Middle School students will be able to learn with virtual reality technology, Martin said.

“For the 2019-20 school year, Millsap Middle School and high school have added augmented and virtual reality technology that allows students to learn through conducting hands-on activities,” Martin said. “This tool replicates real-world simulations that enables students to participate in learning experiences otherwise inaccessible.” 

For information about the survey, visit juniorachievement.org/web/ja-chisholmtrail.

Weatherford Democrat reporter Madelyn Edwards

contributed to this story.