When Did Science Education Become STEM?

By Liana Loewus — April 02, 2015 1 min read
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In writing this blog, I do a lot of thinking about the acronym “STEM.” Does it make sense to connect the four disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and math in a single class or program? Is STEM too broad a category? Or should it be broadened to include the arts (i.e., STEAM)?

STEM is not a term I remember from my own schooling. So when exactly did it enter the educational lexicon?

Many sources around the Internet attribute the acronym to Judith A. Ramaley, who was the assistant director for education and human resources at the National Science Foundation from 2001 to 2004. Ramaley later served as president of Winona State University in Minnesota, and the local paper there quoted her as saying that when her team was first creating curricula for those disciplines, the acronym they came up with was “SMET,” but she “didn’t like the sound of that word.” So she changed it.

A search of the Education Week archives shows that educators were starting to combine the subjects before 2001.

A piece from January 30, 1985, mentioned a policy forum that would address “whether recent initiatives to improve education in mathematics, science, engineering, and other technology-related subjects are likely to meet the country’s needs.”

There’s not much on the four subjects being linked again until 15 years later. On July 12, 2000, an article appears about then-Texas governor George W. Bush’s plan to allocate "$345 million to increase federal student-loan forgiveness for students who major in science, math, technology, or engineering and commit to teach in a high-need school for at least five years.”

The first explicit mention of STEM—using the acronym—seems to be in 2005. Rep. Vernon Ehlers, a Republican from Michigan, and Rep. Mark Udall, a Democrat from Colorado, had “set up the Science Technology Engineering and Math, or STEM, caucus” in Congress. (That caucus is still around.)

A few more mentions of STEM appear in 2006. And by 2008, STEM starts showing up in headlines—an indication it had become a common educational term.

Library intern Connor Smith contributed to this story.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.