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STEM Education Beyond the Classroom

Jessica “Jessie” Vohwinkel is the After-school Coordinator for Morehead Planetarium and Science Center. Vohwinkel is a shining example of how important STEM after-school programs can be to children in public education. With STEM after-school programs across the country, children are becoming more confident in their learning abilities and are looking further into STEM careers in the future. 

What is STEM?

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, and STEM programs aim to introduce students to these four subjects across all education levels. With a continuous increase of STEM careers in the job market, STEM education helps to encourage and prepare students for STEM degrees and future STEM careers in this booming industry. 

Why is STEM Important?

STEM is important in public education and in the modern world. With a 79% growth of employment in STEM careers since 1990, the economy is rapidly seeing a need for STEM-educated individuals. This data from the Pew Research Center shows that there will be better job security for those that enter into STEM-related careers. The more that students are introduced to STEM programs, the more encouragement they will have to pursue a STEM career. The increase in STEM careers does not seem to be slowing down, however, despite interest in those STEM careers getting lower. STEM degree production is not keeping pace with STEM talent demand. 

Why Aren't Public School STEM Programs Enough?

When it comes to public education, students are always slipping through the cracks. According to the Annual Review of Sociology in STEM education, “Domestically, disparities by family SES, race, and gender persist in STEM education.” This data on STEM education disparities means that certain groups of students are not benefitting from or encouraged by public education STEM programs as much as others. This group of students negatively affected by the generalization of public schools overlaps with the type of students participating in after-school programs. These students pass through each grade level with the notion that future STEM-related education and even careers are too daunting and intimidating, and this mindset reflects in a study completed by the Pew Research Center in which over half of the adults polled said that people don’t pursue STEM degrees because they perceive the subjects as “too hard.” Where the students do not get encouragement or feel intimidated by the public education STEM programming, they are encouraged and helped through supplemental after-school programs.

Where After-school Heroes Come In

Jessie Vohwinkel is one of many after-school heroes/educators around the country that make an impact on the students that need extra help in STEM education beyond the classroom. With help from After-school programs such as Science Action Club, Girlstart and Project GUTS (Growing Up Thinking Scientifically) attitudes toward STEM careers and fields have improved and there is a higher likelihood of graduation and pursuit of a STEM career among the after-school program participants. Jessie is one of those hidden heroes supporting these after-school programs. Every day Jessie comes to work with a smile on her face and she is ready to help her kiddos! As an educator she is understanding, organized and determined – determined to create a safe place for her students to learn and feel confident with STEM. It is important for Jessie to make sure that her students can see a STEM degree or a STEM career in their future, if only as a possibility. Jessie herself had trouble with STEM education when she was in grade school and it made her shy away from STEM-related higher education. In order to keep her students from reacting the same way she did in the past, Jessie tries to make every lesson as fun and hands-on as she can. Jessie gets the kids involved in each activity and makes sure they understand what the lesson is and that it is not too difficult for them. Jessie helps her kiddos beyond the public education classroom to guarantee them a chance that the public education STEM programs do not.


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