Mathematics as a Vital Component of the Workforce

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) Industries of the 21st century have an unmet demand for a highly skilled, technically-trained workforce, and the demand is growing each year. The Department of Commerce 2011 Report on STEM jobs shows a 7.9% growth rate through 2010, projecting an increase to 17% by 2018.

“The role of mathematics has changed dramatically over the last few decades. The biological sciences now require substantial amounts of mathematics as they have become more quantitative. Graduate level courses in economics look like courses in real analysis. Digitization surrounds us and presents us with even greater opportunities to apply mathematics. The mathematical training that undergraduates receive is much more than the sum of its parts. It is not just the mathematical tools that we learn but also the attention to detail that makes mathematicians such a vital component of the workforce.” (Bill Velez, University of Arizona, CURM guest speaker)
“Certainly math is a common language. Being able to speak that common language is very important. . . . It’s important for undergraduate students to become familiar with the languages, symbols, and constructs of high level mathematics. Students can maximize their career options by getting involved in research, sharpening their math skills, and exploring other areas of science. . . . Find some way to be involved in research as an undergraduate. It’s critical that students try and learn as much as they can about a wide range of scientific endeavors. Every scientific field that I am aware of has become very technical and mathematically based.”(Allen Robinson, distinguished member of the technical staff at Sandia National Laboratories, quoted from article “The Common Language” by S. Carnley, Frontiers, Spring 2013, pp. 18-19.)

“Reports have shown that there are signi ficant bene fits for students who participate in undergraduate research in a STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics] fi eld. These benefi ts can be summarized to include gains in knowledge and skills, academic achievement and educational attainment, professional growth and advancement,and personal growth. . . .When we discuss undergraduate research, we often limit our thinking to students who will be attending graduate school and who eventually will become professors. However, many of the bene fits mentioned above can help students who go into business, industry, or government. Often, professors do not know about [such] careers. [Awareness] of these opportunities [aids so] professors can better direct students to these possibilities as they are mentoring students. . . . [BYU] needed a more eff ective way to get the message to students that there are non-teaching careers for mathematics majors. To do this, we created a Careers in Math speaker series which has run for the past fi ve years. We bring in 5-7 speakers who have a strong background in mathematics and who show how mathematics is used in business, industry, and government. The idea is to show students that mathematics is used in many careers and that taking math courses is bene ficial. Speakers come from various fields such as engineering, programming, operations research, finance, medical fi elds, actuarial sciences, government agencies, law, and even movies. . . .

“I have asked speakers and employers “Why hire a mathematics major?” They have said that they want to hire mathematics majors because of the students’ problem solving skills, attention to detail, ability to abstract, methodical approach, and different perspective they bring to solving a problem. . . . Just having these skills mentioned above is not enough to get a job. Students have asked “What should we do to better prepare ourselves for these careers?” Speakers and employers have recommended that students should know how to program, develop good communication skills (i.e., speaking and writing), have some background in some other STEM fi eld such as statistics, computer science, or biology, and have experience working intensively on a hard problem whose solution is unknown (i.e., do an undergraduate research project or a summer internship).

“Which careers employ students who study mathematics and have the additional skills mentioned above? While there are numerous careers, let me share some examples from engineering, programming, operations research, data mining and analytics, fi nance, medical fields, government laboratories and agencies, and computer graphics. . . .The world is becoming more math-oriented, and there are a lot of exciting careers for people who understand mathematics. Let your undergraduate research students know about these careers. Remember that undergraduate research projects are not only bene ficial for students who go into academia, but they can also be a great preparation for mathematics students who plan to go into business, industry, or government.” (Dorff, M., “Non-Academic Careers, Internships, and Undergraduate Research,” Jan. 2013, pp. 1-9.)