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Chevron funds study targeting hurdles to STEM curriculum

With 700 workers employed in gas drilling operations in the tri-state region surrounding Pittsburgh, energy giant Chevron believes it has a significant stake in whether current middle and high school students are adequately prepared for careers in the gas and drilling sector.

That’s why the California company helped underwrite a wide-reaching study that attempts to dig deeper into what obstacles are preventing students from pursuing the so-called STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

Among the study’s findings are a lack of awareness about what STEM education is, and how the class subjects connect to real-world jobs.

The study, which was commissioned by the Carnegie Science Center, polled educators, business leaders, students and parents in 17 counties in Western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and northern West Virginia. Nova Chemicals, a Canadian-based maker of plastics and chemicals with operations in Moon and Beaver County, also provided support for the study conducted by Campos Inc., a Downtown-based research and marketing firm.

The results were released Tuesday at the science center on the North Shore during a daylong event attended by teachers who participate in the Carnegie STEM Excellence Pathway, a program that assists school districts in improving their offerings.

For a related article, click here: University of Wyoming’s Center for Law and Energy receives $25k gift from BP.

“We wanted good data and [to determine] what was important to these regions in terms of the workforce,” said Mary Murrin, a Chevron spokeswoman.

Chevron was particularly interested in the perceptions of science, technology, engineering and math among survey respondents in rural counties, Ms. Murrin said, because those areas typically are not included in STEM research that focuses on concentrated populations in large, urban and suburban school districts.

Parents’ awareness of STEM education is lowest in rural areas, the study found.

Chevron, with a regional base in Moon, has been a major player in the Marcellus Shale industry since 2011 when it acquired the assets and gas reserves of Atlas Energy for $3.68 billion. It is a founding sponsor of the science center’s Chevron Center for STEM Education and Career Development, a collaboration of corporations, foundations and universities.

One of the critical misconceptions about STEM that was identified in the study, Ms. Murrin noted, is that all such jobs require a four-year degree.

“You could start with a certification or a two-year degree,” she said of jobs such as machinist, welder or plumber that could benefit from general STEM training.

In the region, the study found only 42 percent of parents surveyed had heard of STEM, and only 25 percent believe their children’s school is putting an emphasis on such education.

Most parents associated STEM jobs with college-educated professionals including engineers and computer programmers or individuals who hold technical or two-year degrees such as chemical or electrical technicians.

Less than half of parents were aware of jobs that require STEM-related skills but not four-year degrees.