In high school, I loved chemistry class. Led by an inspiring teacher, I was curious about the experiments we did and enjoyed the hands-on nature of the class. Although I wasn’t the top student, I knew it was something that I was good at. I was interested in learning more about it. As I considered college, career, or beyond, I felt like chemistry might be something that I would like to do.
I received feedback from my parents, teachers, and friends:
“Really, do you want to work in a lab everyday?”, “Do you realize how much math will be involved?”, “Don’t you think you’d rather do something more collaborative and team-oriented?”, “I just can’t see you as a scientist!”
Needless to say, I was somewhat discouraged. While these were all good points, I think there was one important point that was missed. A career in chemistry or any STEM field didn’t necessarily have to be in a lab. I didn’t have to be a scientist. There were so many other aspects of chemistry that I could’ve explored. I don’t know that I really had the resources or the guidance to really consider the options.
A quick Google search reveals many job opportunities for young people considering work in the field of chemistry. While exploring science in the traditional sense and working in a lab are possibilities, if your students are interested in chemistry, there are many directions they can go. Chemistry influences those in the medical field, in manufacturing and industry, and in health and safety. Chemists are needed when it comes to the environment. Whether uncovering solutions for agriculture or sustainability or pursuing information focus on care for wildlife or climate change. Through education and innovation, those with an interest in chemistry can use their knowledge to teach others or design new tools and materials to solve problems in lots of other fields.
Here are a few pathways that learners interested in chemistry might consider:
Materials and Manufacturing
Wildlife and Conservation
Chemical Health and Safety
We can prepare students for these and other career paths by developing future-ready skills to support their learning and development. Critical skills needed for STEM jobs include:
Attention to detail
Written and oral communication skills
We also need to develop learning dispositions in our students. These are the characteristics and enduring traits that we want students to possess. We can build these within our classrooms in the learning tasks that we design and the experiences we provide to students. While building skills are important for our students, it is just as relevant to build these traits within our classrooms:
When these dispositions are instilled, learners have the ability to be independent and forward-thinking in their work and in life. As these characteristics are developed in young people, we are doing our part in preparing them for the modern workforce.
These skills and dispositions were developed in me as I was considering my future in chemistry. I was provided opportunities to build my research and analytical skills. I pursued both independent and group projects, identifying problems and finding solutions. Within the classroom, I developed my attention to detail and close reading skills. I learned to overcome obstacles and persevere in the face of challenges. These were not only lessons learned within the chemistry classroom, but in many of my classes. While these lessons are important for those pursuing STEM careers, all content areas are able to support this development.
When a student expresses an interest in a STEM career path, there are many ways we can support that interest. Classroom experiences, digital career exploration tools liked Defined Careers, job shadowing, and connections with experts in the field. We can foster their interests in STEM fields by equipping them with the skills and dispositions needed to be successful in college, career, and beyond.
My personal interest in chemistry has stayed with me as I have pursued my career in education. I have always maintained a love of all things STEM. My ongoing curiosity of discovering new things, exploring solutions to problems, and the excitement of science has helped me to be a STEM advocate for others. As your students share their passions and interests with you, consider the many pathways that STEM careers can offer them. Take the time to foster the skills and dispositions that will help prepare them for their future.
About the author: Dr. Jacie Maslyk is an Assistant Superintendent focusing on curriculum, instruction, and professional learning. She has served in public school as a classroom teacher, reading specialist, elementary principal, and Director of Elementary Education over the last 22 years. She is passionate about STEM education and is the author of STEAM Makers: Fostering Creativity and Innovation in the Elementary Classroom. You can contact Jacie through her website at steam-makers.com.
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