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International Day of Education: Breaking Stigmas About STEM

By Jenny Schiavone, Vice President, Corporate Communications, Americas — January 24, 2024 5 min read
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Youth students in a lab classroom examining hair extensions with Henkel instructors supervision

Scientific and technical progress in our nation is rapidly advancing, requiring an increased demand for STEM workers. Although academia and corporations have made significant strides, there remains a gap in STEM representation for underrepresented groups. According to the US Science Foundation and National Science Board, nearly a quarter of occupations in the United States in health care, engineering, information technology, construction, and multiple other fields require STEM competency. However, according to its 2021 report, “Although STEM workers generally have better labor market outcomes compared to non-STEM workers, these benefits are unevenly distributed across region, sex, race, or ethnicity. While participation by historically underrepresented groups has grown, these groups continue to be less well represented, which may impede the innovative capacity of the U.S. S&E enterprise.”

For corporations, enabling equitable access to and creating opportunities that ignite a passion for STEM in today’s youth is a necessary investment — and one that must extend beyond the classroom.

Today, as we celebrate International Day of Education, there is a distinct need for more exposure of diverse professionals in STEM and pathways to non-traditional methods to keep students engaged and interested in STEM education.

Captivating Young Minds with STEM Programming

Building and nurturing a positive perception of the STEM industry starts in early education settings. A Microsoft study on Closing the STEM Gap found 31% of girls believe that jobs requiring coding and programming are “not for them.” In high school, that percentage jumps up to 40%. By the time they’re in college, 58% of girls count themselves out of these jobs. Creating opportunities to inspire creativity among different groups of students at an early age can help sustain interest in STEM at higher levels with the potential to influence career paths.

At Henkel, a manufacturer of consumer and industrial brands, such as Dial® soap and all® laundry detergent, we see this challenge as an opportunity to bring to life our company purpose: pioneers at heart for the good of generations. One way we live this is demonstrated in Henkel’s STEM education program, Henkel Researchers’ World, which is on a mission to introduce elementary-school-aged children to the world of science. Taking a holistic approach towards teaching and learning, Henkel Researchers’ World has been putting children into the role and workplace of actual researchers since it was established in 2011. The curriculum was created through a partnership of Henkel scientists at Henkel’s headquarters in Dusseldorf, Germany and a local university and designed to be delivered by educators, and it has since reached more than 100,000 children worldwide.

To introduce the program in North America, Henkel also trusted in the value of local partnership, especially to customize the curriculum to meet the U.S. Next Generation Science Standards and reach a diverse community of students. We recently partnered with Mill River Park Collaborative, a local nonprofit in Stamford, Connecticut, focused on guiding the long-term development of greenspace in the community. The partnership involved the opening of a STEM-focused classroom, in the middle of a public greenspace. The classroom places students in the researcher’s chair where they can explore the concepts of sustainability, consumption, recycling, and more, under the guidance of an experienced instructor. In addition to the classroom instruction, the park setting at Mill River Collaborative provides children with an opportunity for movement, mutual exchange and reflection. Offering the courses in a public park, with all fees sponsored by Henkel, also supports equitable access for the children in a fun setting that inspires curiosity and creativity.

During the summer months, the lessons are taken outside. The Henkel Researchers’ World Discovery Cart is a mobile classroom, fashioned like an ice-cream cart, that travels through the park and offers families snack-size, fun and immersive lessons – providing a truly unique environment for observing and enjoying science. The cart is operated by high school and college-age volunteers who receive training to deliver the lessons. Since Henkel Researchers’ World launched in North America, the program has reached over 3,000 children. To learn more, including experiments to try out at home, please visit

Supporting Education Beyond the Classroom

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the number of STEM-related jobs in the U.S. is expected to grow by 10% by 2032, placing greater emphasis on the need for workers to have a background in STEM skills. This workforce shift is spurring companies to not only invest in STEM education but invest early. In practice, this can take place beyond the classroom, through role modeling, direct funding, employee volunteerism, and community outreach.

Role modeling is key to inspiring career aspirations. Through Henkel’s Sustainability Ambassadors program, a diverse mix of employees serve as active role models by visiting elementary schools to introduce children to exciting ways they can care for the planet and understand concepts like recycling, reusing, and reducing waste. On National STEM Day in 2023, Henkel hosted on-site workshops for the young children of employees at three Henkel facilities in the United States, where they learned how adhesives function, how to make paper from recycled materials, how surface tension is related to the formulation of soap, and more. Demonstrating how science is behind everyday products makes science relatable for young people, and having their parents attend the class with them demonstrates their support to explore careers in science, even at an early age. Henkel also profiles a diverse mix of employees who are active role models with successful careers in STEM through features in its social media and on its website that teachers and parents can share with their children.

Reaching children in elementary school is an important way to inspire a love of STEM for a lifetime. To further reinforce and support the work of STEM educators, Henkel also has provided direct funds to support local public school teachers through DonorsChoose.

Investing in the future workforce is not just good business, it’s good for company culture. By impacting the lives of future generations, we strengthen the bonds that connect us as employees – with each other and within our communities.

As we commemorate International Day of Education, let it serve as a powerful reminder of the collective responsibility we have to support teachers and educators. Supporting greater access to STEM education moves us towards a future where the minds of emerging innovators and problem-solvers are nurtured.

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