The June Skies

Mercury is positioned between Earth and the sun and is not visible this month.

Brilliant Venus appears as the “morning star” during June. Look for it at dawn, low in the eastern sky.

Reddish Mars can be spotted in the southwest as the sky darkens in evening twilight. On June 7th, Mars and the moon will be in conjunction soon after sunset. The moon, in gibbous phase, will pass within two degrees of Mars. Throughout the month, Mars moves closer to the blue-white double star Spica to its left. Mars continues to grow dimmer as Earth, in its faster orbit, leaves the Red Planet behind.

Mighty Jupiter shines brightly in the west in the evening twilight, sinking lower in the sky each night. By the end of June, Jupiter is lost in the solar glare.

Saturn glows in the southern sky toward the end of evening twilight. Now is a great time to observe its incredible ring system through a telescope. Although Galileo saw them first in 1610, he was unable to determine their true nature. In 1655, Christiaan Huygens, using a better telescope, was the first to discern them as a disk that surrounds Saturn.

The Summer Solstice occurs on June 21 at 6:51 AM EDT. The North Pole of the Earth will be tilted toward the sun, which will be in its northernmost position in the sky and directly over the Tropic of Cancer. This marks the start of summer and the maximum hours of daylight in the Northern Hemisphere and the beginning of winter in the Southern Hemisphere.

STEM in America’s Future

“.Leadership tomorrow depends on how we educate our students today – especially in science, technology, engineering and math.”

– President Barack Obama, September 16, 2010

Another academic year is drawing to a close and students are looking forward to a great summer vacation. Hopefully, students and their parents will give some serious thought over the next few months to decisions that have to be made regarding career choices. Many students have considered various future career paths and some in high school have already decided exactly what field of study they want to pursue.

Over the past several years, major changes have taken place in employment opportunities, not only in this country but all over the world. Just a few years ago, if you graduated from a four-year college, you were pretty much guaranteed a job, if not in your exact field, at least in a related occupation. Now, many four-year college graduates with a B.S. or B.A. degree and even some with master’s degrees and PhDs, have difficulty finding employment in their chosen fields. A wide mismatch has developed between the skills employers need and the skills present in the workforce and this is due to a real disconnect between the entire educational system in this country and the needs of our economy.

Today, anyone with just a four-year high school degree can look forward to wages of only $10-$15/hour if they are lucky enough to find a job. According to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, only 36 percent of jobs in America in the coming years will be filled by people with no education beyond high school. That number represents half of what it was during the 1970s. Times have changed and students must be made aware of what they face in the future so that they can prepare to cope with reality. And the reality is: this is the toughest labor market in an entire generation and it appears as though this situation will not change in the foreseeable future.

The major structural changes that have taken place over the last few years in most of the world’s economies appear to favor technology-based skills. This means that a career-oriented STEM education is more important than ever before. STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math. There is currently a worldwide demand for tech-savvy graduates in these four disciplines and this demand is projected to grow for many years to come. Currently, many employers in numerous countries simply cannot find sufficient numbers of high-skilled STEM graduates to fill their needs. At the same time, there appears to be a surplus of college graduates who are unemployed simply because they are educated in areas where there is no demand for employment.

Although employers and educators are aware of the need for increased STEM education, much of the public seems detached from the importance of instituting changes to our established educational system. Ideally, students should be introduced to STEM fields in elementary school even though that would require many teachers to receive additional STEM training also. Students in kindergarten and first grade, while building simple machines with toys such as LEGOs, can gain STEM knowledge when they discover teamwork and learn problem solving and creativity. In short order they will advance into motorized mechanisms and robotics, as they develop STEM interests while having fun.

Currently, the U.S. is trailing at least 29 countries in math scores and 22 in science. Hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs are unfilled in this country because of a lack of a skilled workforce with a STEM background. Ideally, every high school graduate in this country should at least be “STEM literate”, able to use the scientific method and capable of thinking critically and skeptically. Incredible as it sounds in the year 2014, although many students have access to school computers, the majority of schools in this country do not actually teach computer science, the principles and practices of computing and coding.

If America wants a globally competitive workforce, even those not in STEM fields need to know at least a little bit about how the world all around them works.

Recently, Forbes reported that recent college graduates with a bachelor’s degree can earn up to about $39,000 a year, if they can find jobs, but that salary can more than double for those graduates with degrees in STEM fields. Currently, the best-paying STEM jobs for recent graduates include petroleum engineers, nuclear engineers, mechanical engineers and architects, chemical engineers, computer and information research scientists, aerospace engineers, nuclear medicine technologists, marine biologists, business intelligence analysts, and systems software developers.

Although not the best paying, most of the STEM jobs will be in computing. In so many ways, the future is bright for qualified STEM workers.