frontsmall

Album Review: Various Artists, “Science Fair”

“Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America’s success. But if we want to win the future — if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas — then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.”  – President Barack Obama, State of the Union Address, January 2011.

You’ve probably heard a lot about the importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education in the past few years, particularly how the United States has fallen behind other countries in these areas and how students pursuing STEM-related fields is crucial to the future success of the U.S. in the global economy.

Most of what you’ve heard is true — we’re kind of sucking at all things STEM-related right now. According to the most recent Program For International Student Assessment (PISA) study, which measures the performance of 15-year-olds in reading literacy, mathematics literacy, and science literacy, 23 out of the 65 participating countries and education systems ranked higher than the U.S. in math literacy and 18 ranked higher in science literacy. Not great news for the U.S., especially considering that:

  • There will be more than 1.2 million job openings in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)-related fields in the United States by 2018. (U.S. Department of Labor)
  • In the next five years, STEM jobs are projected to grow twice as quickly as jobs in other fields. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  • Out of the 20 fastest growing occupations projected to 2014, 15 require significant math or science education. (U.S. Department of Labor)
  • Only 16% of U.S. bachelor’s degrees between now and 2018 will specialize in STEM. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

And when you consider women in STEM, the numbers are even more disheartening. According to Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation, a report published last year by the U.S. Economics and Statistics Administration:

  • Although women fill close to half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, they hold less than 25% of STEM jobs. This has been the case throughout the past decade, even as college-educated women have increased their share of the overall workforce.
  • Women hold a disproportionately low share of STEM undergraduate degrees, particularly in engineering.
  • Women with a STEM degree are less likely than their male counterparts to work in a STEM occupation; they are more likely to work in education or healthcare.

So, as important as it is for ALL U.S. students to get a good STEM education and pursue careers in STEM-related fields, encouraging girls and women to do so is vital. According to that ESA report, women with STEM jobs earned 33% more than comparable women in non-STEM jobs, which is considerably higher than the STEM premium for men. So that means that the gender wage gap is smaller in STEM jobs than in non-STEM jobs.

In response to the need for girls to get a solid STEM education and to encourage them to pursue STEM-related careers, Spare the Rock Records has released Science Fair, an album comprised of 18 exclusive tracks — all performed by female artists — themed around and benefiting science and engineering education for girls. All after-tax proceeds from the sale of the album will be donated to Girls Inc.’s science education program. Science Fair was produced by Elizabeth Mitchell (Ida), Molly Leford (Lunch Money), Dean Jones (Dog on Fleas), and Bill Childs (Spare the Rock Records’s owner), and features cover art donated by El Lohse. It is an especially meaningful project for Childs, as it was inspired by the lives of his parents.

I am no expert on kids’ music — I don’t have children and don’t really hang out with any — but Science Fair is the kind of kids’ record I can get behind. And, honestly, I’d recommend it to anyone who loves great music — even if they don’t have kids; it’s a fun album that kids of all ages and genders will enjoy. But since it is specifically targeted at a young female audience, I cannot recommend enough that you give a copy to the daughters, granddaughters, little sisters, nieces, and any other young girls in your life. With songs covering subjects like Marie Curie, butterflies, and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, it’s a great way to spark girls’ enthusiasm for science — even if it’s not their best subject.

Though I really like the album as a whole, I think the strong points are the tracks from Babe the Blue Ox, Frances England (a song about a star’s habitibal zone!), Wunmi, Cat & a Bird, Renee & Jeremy, Lori Henriques, and Mates of State, who chose to cover Guided By Voices’s “I Am a Scientist.”

Will it take more than the release of a kindie record to improve STEM education for girls and encourage them to pursue STEM-related careers? Of course it will. But at least this is a step in the right — and fun — direction.