STEM Initiative Spotlight: Interview with Association for Career and Technical Education

Association for Career and Technical Education

ACTE logo largeThe Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) is the nation’s largest not-for-profit association committed to the advancement of education that prepares youth and adults for successful careers. ACTE represents educators, administrators, researchers, guidance counselors and others involved in all levels of career and technical education. ACTE is committed to excellence in providing advocacy, public awareness and access to resources, professional development and leadership opportunities.

We spoke to Sean Lynch, Legislative and Public Affairs Managers for ACTE to find out more about this organization.

There’s a shortage of women in STEM careers; what is your organization’s unique role in addressing this issue?

ACTE has been paying special attention to this issue of late because it so closely aligns with our core mission of connecting students with education that will prepare them for college and career success. We’ve all heard the statistics about the enormous growth that is projected in STEM fields, and ACTE’s members are uniquely positioned to help get students interested in and prepared for those careers – whether it’s our guidance and career counselors who suggest STEM courses to young women as they plan their curriculum, teachers who have personal interactions with students from all backgrounds and can make STEM education have an impact on their lives, or members of the business and industry community who want to see these gaps close and can act as mentors and leaders to young women who have that talent and passion for STEM topics.

What have you discovered to be effective in helping connect girls and women to STEM studies and careers?

I think that guidance and career counselors, particularly at the secondary school level, have a significant impact on the way that girls and women think about and approach STEM careers. These professionals work with students to feel out what they’re good at and where theirs interests lie so they can translate that into curriculum that prepares them for their further educational pursuits or career aspirations, and we hear from our members about all that they’re doing to help their students think proactively and seriously about how something like an engineering or a statistics course might pay off for them in the long run.

I would also note the great work that CTE teachers do to provide their students with project-based learning opportunities as a great way to make a topic that can be abstract or challenging for some students, such as mathematics, into something they can apply, collaborate on and get excited about.

How does your approach change when focusing on youth versus adults?

When CTE educators are working with youth, such as at the secondary level, they’re helping them to build a vision for their future by identifying the passions and skills that will make them successful professionals in careers they care about. I think the biggest difference between that approach and that of adult learners is that by the time students have begun postsecondary education or continuing educational opportunity, they have a much clearer picture of where they want to go and where their interest lies. Both of these, of course, have the same goal of helping students get into careers that they care about and can earn a living in – and oftentimes those are in STEM fields.

What milestones have you already reached or are you currently moving towards?

ACTE is working toward our goal of connecting every student with a valued, exciting career that they can earn a living in – regardless of their gender. We hope to see a great understanding of and emphasis on CTE as an effective vehicle to bring STEM topics to America’s students.

How can schools, professional organizations and companies work together to empower women entering STEM?

ACTE always strives to help build bridges between local education institutions and members of the business community so we can ensure that CTE programs are preparing students with the skills they will need for in-demand careers. We believe that by working together, schools and companies can institute mentorship and experiential learning opportunities that will inspire students to pursue STEM-related education and careers, fill the skills gap and ensure that America’s education system equitably prepares students for success as professionals and citizens.

To find out more check out our full feature piece, 15 Innovative Initiatives Bringing Women Into STEM, as well as the Association for Career and Technical Education website.

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