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What is STEM education and how can it impact your career? 

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This article has been vetted by University of Phoenix's editorial advisory committee. 
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Kathryn Uhles, Dean, College of Business and IT

This article has been reviewed by Kathryn Uhles, MIS, MSP, Dean, College of Business and IT

This article was updated on 03/28/2024.

What does STEM stand for? 

The National Science Foundation introduced the term STEM in 2001 to categorize a set of educational disciplines. The acronym quickly became popular. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math. While these academic disciplines can be broken down into more specific areas and curricula, they share several commonalities.

For example, all four disciplines focus on analytical approaches to objective, real-world problem-solving. STEM fields don’t focus on poetry or philosophical musings; they focus on understanding how the world works and how that can be applied to solve problems people face in daily life.

That’s not to say that these disciplines follow identical paths. Scientific inquiry (such as what you might learn in an environmental science degree program) explores the “how” of the physical world. Engineering and information technology are also STEM fields, but they take the findings from scientific inquiry and apply them as solutions to social challenges.

More than 100 degrees and certificate options — 90% of which are in growing fields.

Understanding which approach most appeals to you can be an important part of choosing your path in STEM. It’s also helpful to understand how these fields within STEM are evolving and influencing the future.

Jacquelyn Kelly, PhD, associate dean in University of Phoenix’s College of General Studies, cites the emerging issue of critical minerals as an example.

“STEM fields help us understand and create solutions to solve social problems,” Kelly says. “Entire disciplines develop in response to these problems and solutions.

“With regard to critical minerals, we all know technological devices are a huge part of our lives. Very specific minerals and elements are required to create these devices. Now, some of those required minerals are being labeled as so important to the social and national health that they are called critical minerals [whose availability is prioritized].

“With legislation highlighting these critical minerals, mining is being spotlit as an incredibly important field. While many people’s perceptions of mining remain antiquated from their understandings of historical events, current-day mining has changed and is a field that will impact our access to future technology.”

Why is STEM important? 

Innovations in STEM fields have defined nearly every aspect of modern life, from cars you see on the road to the medical technology that saves lives daily. None of this would be possible without the committed study and effort of individuals in STEM disciplines.

Every innovation builds on one that came before it, because STEM disciplines affect and influence each other. While science and engineering/IT are discrete fields with very different objectives and outcomes, they have a symbiotic relationship.

“Engineers require a complex understanding of the scientific phenomena in order to apply it to solve social problems,” Kelly says. “Scientists need the technologies and sensors that engineers create in order to continue their pursuit of understanding the way the universe works. Both disciplines need each other to continue to grow.”  

Not surprisingly then, STEM degree programs prepare students for a variety of jobs. Consider what you can do with a computer science degree, for example. Job options range from data analyst to software developer.

This is only the beginning of what you can do with an information technology degree, and information technology is only one part of STEM. But you can already see its far-ranging impact and importance.

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Or consider a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science, which prepares students for a career as an environmental analyst. All three degree programs fall under the STEM category but have vastly different career outcomes. 

What about the humanities? 

Just because you have an interest in STEM doesn’t mean you have to give up on other pursuits. The humanities, which include everything from philosophy to anthropology to literature, might be an important part of who you are too.

So, pursuing a degree in a STEM field does not preclude your ability to learn more about the humanities. (Elective courses may be a good way to explore this educational dimension.) It’s just not the primary focus of the degree, which instead often focuses on science and math.

While the humanities are separate from STEM, there was a time when K–12 educators moved to include the arts in STEM programs. The reasons were varied. Some educators saw value in the hands-on learning arts education afforded students. Others valued the creative skills inherent to learning about the arts. Whatever the reason, the acronym STEAM was born.

What does STEAM stand for? 

STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, the arts and math. Consider STEAM as an educational approach that, as mentioned, integrates the arts and creativity with existing STEM disciplines to help foster innovative thinking and problem-solving skills. It’s a term that is more so associated with primary and secondary education.

“As the need to prepare students for the workforce increased, adding the A to STEM supported development of critical thinking and well-rounded curriculum,” Kelly says. “Additionally, as science education research highlighted an aversion to STEM disciplines, incorporating the arts supported students with initial connection to the discipline. These strategies were emphasized in the PK–12 space and are seen much less often in the world of higher education.”

Instead, STEM education ideally incorporates creative and critical thinking in its core curriculum. As noted, the purpose of engineering, Kelly notes, is to apply scientific constructs to address social challenges. That, by definition, will involve addressing ethical and other questions traditionally associated with the arts and humanities.

“Environmental science is a good example,” Kelly says. “Environmental science requires a scientific understanding of the environment and integrates that with the required steps to manage people and their relationship with the environment. So that science incorporates science, ethics, policy and management.”

What is a STEM degree? 

Though you may have a general interest in STEM fields, your choice of a major will likely emphasize one or another STEM discipline. Pursuing a Master of Science in Cybersecurity or Master of Information Systems would be a path to consider, for example, if you want to apply science to solve problems.

At University of Phoenix, the following STEM-based fields of study are available:


Liberal arts

UOPX also offers a variety of courses in science, such as biology, anatomy and even zoology, and the humanities (think literature, music and visual arts), although degree programs are not available in these fields. 

Popular STEM careers 

Wondering how else that STEM degree can be put to use? Check out these popular STEM careers based on information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Job Salary range Education requirements Projected job outlook 2022–2032
$66,010 to $174,540
Bachelor’s degree
$71,280 to $198,100
Bachelor’s degree
$74,980 to $197,350
Bachelor’s degree
$46,920 to $130,770
Bachelor’s degree

The salary ranges are not specific to students or graduates of University of Phoenix. Actual outcomes vary based on multiple factors, including prior work experience, geographic location and other factors specific to the individual. University of Phoenix does not guarantee employment, salary level or career advancement. BLS data is geographically based. Information for a specific state/city can be researched on the BLS website.

How can I get started in my STEM career? 

If you are interested in math and science and how they can help you understand or influence the world around you, a STEM career may be for you. In that case, it’s time to explore what education options may be right for you and your career goals.

Your chosen certificate or degree program will depend on your interests and skill set.

Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity, for instance, is an option for someone looking for a career in protecting data from cyberthreats. A program in environmental science may be worth considering if you are curious about sustainability, understanding renewable resources and applying ethical considerations to program development.

Sometimes, earning a certificate makes sense in STEM careers and elsewhere. Certificate programs are often shorter than degree programs (and often cost less as a result) and complement the subject matter with a specific, designated skill set.

For example, earning a Cloud Computing Certificate might make sense after you complete a degree in information technology. In this UOPX certificate program, students learn the foundation of cloud services as well as Linux fundamentals, network web services and other cloud technologies and operations.

If you are interested in a STEM career, UOPX offers associate, bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, as well as certificate offerings, in STEM fields. Learn more below!

STEM programs at University of Phoenix

If you’re eager to learn more about STEM programs that are online, are flexible and offer a fixed tuition, request more information via the UOPX website.

  • Advanced Cybersecurity Certificate — This program offers hands-on IT labs and simulations to help you develop a broad knowledge of cybersecurity.
  • Associate of Science in Cybersecurity — The International Council of E-Commerce Consultants (EC-Council) and University of Phoenix teamed up to launch this degree and elective courses that align with three EC-Council certification exams: Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), Certified Network Defender (CND) and Certified Secure Computer User (CSCU). Awarded the EC-Council’s 2019 Academic Circle of Excellence Award, this program is designed to help you develop the problem-solving skills and techniques needed to defend against cybersecurity risks.
  • Associate of Arts in Information Technology — This IT program introduces you to information technology concepts and principles in programming, data analytics, cybersecurity and networking.
  • Bachelor of Science in Information Technology — In this program, you will learn skills like business process, cybersecurity, information systems, operations and systems analysis.
  • Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity — This online program teaches skills such as security policies, network security, cybersecurity and more.
  • Bachelor of Science in Computer Science — This program equips you with the knowledge to apply information technology theory and principles to address real-world business challenges with advanced concepts in math, programming and computer architecture. You can also use elective courses to earn a certificate in cybersecurity, networking, cloud computing and much more.
  • Bachelor of Science in Data Science — Gain fundamental skills and knowledge for analyzing, manipulating and processing data sets using statistical software. Learn ETL (extract, transform, load) processes for integrating data sets for business intelligence. Focus on data mining and modeling, data programming languages, statistical analysis, and data visualization and storytelling.
  • Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science — Make a difference in today’s environmental landscape with this online degree. Through courses in science and environmental issues, this program will help you understand renewable resources, sustainable green living, urban infrastructure and the changing climate.
  • Master of Information Systems (standard and competency based) — Go beyond building computers and managing your queues to where you could run an entire information system. This program teaches you technical and leadership skills you need to develop and manage these systems.
  • Master of Science in Cybersecurity — In this program, you will gain a deeper understanding of cybersecurity and operations at an enterprise level. You will take just one 6-week course at a time, so you can balance work and life on the path to your degree.
  • Master of Science in Data Science — Strategically apply data science to optimize functionality, scalability and system performance. Plus, gain career-relevant skills in topics like artificial intelligence, database administration, data warehousing, data visualization, machine learning, statistical analysis and more.
  • IT certificates — Enhance your IT skills and knowledge with certificate programs focused on such topics as cloud computing and cybersecurity.
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A graduate of Johns Hopkins University and its Writing Seminars program and winner of the Stephen A. Dixon Literary Prize, Michael Feder brings an eye for detail and a passion for research to every article he writes. His academic and professional background includes experience in marketing, content development, script writing and SEO. Today, he works as a multimedia specialist at University of Phoenix where he covers a variety of topics ranging from healthcare to IT.

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