A look at the STEM ecosystem

STEM experiences and education provide pathways to a greater range of career choices and skills that increase the ability to lead successful lives, including: problem solving, critical thinking, resiliency, the ability to fail, and analytical skills.

However, research shows that efforts to increase STEM participation aren’t working, especially goals to increase participation by women and people of color who continue to be underrepresented in STEM employment. Cradle-to-career pipeline approaches typically focus on student testing as measures of success, putting the responsibility on individuals rather than the systems and supports surrounding them.

Minnesota Compass has developed a new STEM ecosystem model that shifts the responsibility for STEM learning and success from the individual learners to the educators, organizations, funders, policymakers, and systems that need to eliminate barriers and create the environments, opportunities, and engagement that allow youth and adults to see themselves in STEM, learn, and succeed.

The STEM ecosystem model includes a continuum of key measures: access, identity, interest, and achievement, which help show progress in these important areas needed to achieve desired outcomes.

A goal of this project is to highlight the need to take action and shift to an ecosystem approach to STEM in education, programming, resources, and policy, as well as measurements and data gathering to track progress toward desired objectives and outcomes.

What we know

The majority of jobs in the future will require STEM skills. How does Minnesota prepare a skilled workforce?

  1. STEM skills are not just for scientists.

    The reasons for fostering quality STEM learning in afterschool goes beyond hard facts. Like all worthy goals, it’s based in a set of values and a vision for a better world. When it comes to STEM learning in afterschool, we believe that all young people deserve the opportunity to experience the creative power of STEM and envision themselves in a STEM career, regardless of which career they choose. 

    The skills and attitudes young people learn when they do STEM – problem-solving, a willingness to fail and try again, and critical thinking – are essential for lifelong learning and civic engagement.

  2. Increases in STEM jobs will be required to compete globally and address social issues.

    The vast majority of jobs in the future are going to require STEM skills, and regardless of whether or not they are considered a STEM job, they will require adaptation, data, critical thinking, and  problem-solving.  (There should be some data on this from STEM Next or elsewhere…)

  3. Typical ways we engage youth in STEM are not enough.

    For many decades, youth of color and girls have not pursued STEM class or jobs at the same level as their white male peers.  In the last decade,  STEM education research has worked to identify how to shift that reality. Establishing that access to STEM education alone is not enough to address the gap. STEM identity formation is a critical factor in career interest. (Brickhouse,2001; Calabrese Barton & Tan, 2010. ADD LINK

    Later waves of this research narrowed in on STEM identities because findings illustrate that students with interest and enjoyment in STEM learning may not see themselves in a STEM career (Carlone, Haun-Frank & Webb, 2011). - ADD LINK

  4. STEM learning can and should happen in many places.

    As noted in the President’s Council of Advisors in Science and Technology (PCAST), it is necessary for STEM initiatives to reach more students from minority and low socioeconomic backgrounds (NRC, 2011; PCAST, 2010 ADD LINK).  In the last five years, STEM city and state coalitions in the US are reframing their STEM focus to expand beyond what happens in K12 education and create an ecosystem that is rich in STEM opportunities through afterschool program, museums, family activities, etc. to address the broad social challenge.

Even as we see progress in many areas of the STEM ecosystem, we lag behind in others.

How can we help ensure that all Minnesota residents enjoy the benefits of a healthy STEM ecosystem? Explore the resources on this page to see how and where your help is needed.

STEM career ecosystem illustration
STEM resources




STEM in Minnesota

The nuts and bolts

STEM education is critical to Minnesota's prosperity. Our continued advancement as a state requires that Minnesota’s workers possess the ability to innovate, solve complex challenges, and flourish in a fast-evolving 21st century economy—abilities that are sharpened through STEM interest, identity, achievement, and access. We must ensure all of Minnesota’s residents, from their early years through mid-career, are given the opportunity to equip themselves with the necessary STEM skills to thrive.

This project was developed to better understand the state of STEM in Minnesota and to help target resources most effectively. Working with an advisory group, Minnesota Compass and Boston Scientific developed a cohesive framework for monitoring and supporting Minnesota's STEM ecosystem to answer:

  • How does Minnesota fare on key measures of STEM success, from PreK to mid-career?
  • Are we making progress over time?
  • What strategies can stakeholders employ to ensure that all Minnesotans have access to a high-quality STEM education?

The site will be updated as new data and resources become available.

STEM illustration of the four components of STEM education: Interest, Ability, Achievement, and Access


The fifteen key measures tracked on Minnesota Compass meet the following criteria:

  • Relevant and valid – relates to stated goals and measures what it is intended to measure.
  • Consistent over time – regularly collected the same way.
  • Leading – signals broader changes to come, allowing the community to respond proactively.
  • Actionable – outcomes that can be impacted by programs and policies and change the cradle-to-career trajectory.
  • Affordable – can be collected within project budget.
  • Understandable – easy for target audience to understand.
  • Comparable – allows for comparisons by different groups – race/ethnicity, income, gender.
  • Standardized – allows for comparison with other regions, metro areas, states, or countries.
  • Coherent – provides coherent picture of progression along the cradle-to-career continuum.

Minnesota Compass has identified 273 STEM occupations and 711 fields of study that can lead to a STEM career.

STEM occupations

We based our comprehensive list of STEM occupations on a definition of STEM jobs devised by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). But where the BLS did not include some production and trade occupations in their list of STEM occupations, Minnesota Compass did. The BLS identifies all occupations with a unique Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) number. For example, the SOC for “Animal Scientist,” which is a STEM occupation, is 19-1011.

Fields of study leading to STEM occupations

There are multiple educational routes people can follow to obtain a specific job. For example, to become an animal scientist, a person might study agriculture, apiculture, dairy sciences, or many other fields of study. The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), the federal government’s primary office for educational statistics, identifies the most common fields of study that lead to a specific occupation.  The NCES identifies all fields of study with a unique Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) number. The NCES also created a crosswalk document that provides a convenient link between SOC and CIP numbers—namely, which fields of study most often lead to each STEM occupation. We used this crosswalk document to guide the construction of our list of STEM fields of study.

Originally launched in 2013, the STEM section of Minnesota Compass provided a cohesive framework for monitoring and supporting Minnesota's STEM cradle-to-career continuum, with data on 11 indicators identified by more than 50 Minnesota STEM stakeholders who participated in an advisory group process.

In 2018, STEM advisors were reconvened to review changes in available data, and reassess indicators and other resources on the site.

Research showed the cradle-to-career “pipeline” framework and logic model limited the applications of STEM education to STEM-specific careers, even though skills learned in STEM education have broad applications in life and career.

Wilder Research staff and the STEM advisory group conducted focus groups to learn more about the specific goals and objectives that STEM stakeholders have across six systems: early childhood, K-12 education, out-of-school time, higher education, workforce, and philanthropy.

A new STEM ecosystem logic model, theory of change, and key measures were then developed that shifts the responsibility for STEM learning and success from the individual learners to the educators, organizations, funders, policymakers, and systems that need to eliminate barriers and create the environments, opportunities, and engagement that allow youth and adults to see themselves in STEM, learn, and succeed with the overarching goals to increase individuals’ opportunities and choices, and prepare them for the next stage.

Core advisorS

Jessica Aleshire, Boston Scientific
Tim Barrett,  Minnesota Department of Education
Marilee Grant, retired, formerly of Boston Scientific
Deborah Moore, University of Minnesota
Sam Mukasa, formerly at the University of Minnesota
Doug Paulson, Minnesota Department of Education

STEM Advisory Group

Abdi  Abdirashid, University of Minnesota
Joseph Adamji, Science Museum of MN
John Alberts, Austin Public Schools
Jessica Aleshire, Boston Scientific
Tim Barrett, Minnesota Department of Education (MDE)
Jacqueline Berry, 3M
Eric Billiet, Minnesota Department of Education (MDE)
Amy Blaubach, Curious Minds LLC
Patty Born-Selly, Hamline University Ed Dept
Jamie Brother, Minnesota Children's Museum
Robby Callahan Schreiber, Science Museum of Minnesota
Sarah Carter, Twin Cities PBS
Marty Davis, Saint Paul Public Schools
Jim Davnie, SciMathMN
Vic Dreier, Project Lead the Way
Rebekah Dupont, Augsburg University
Megan Earnest, University of Minnesota Bell Museum
Leah Eby, Girls Inc. at YWCA Minneapolis
Betty Emarita, Development & Training, Inc.
Andrea Ferstan, Greater Metro Workforce Council
Valery Forbes, College of Biological Sciences, University of Minnesota
Wilson Garland, Minnesota State IT Center of Excellence
Hannah Gilbert, Girl Scouts River Valleys
Tamara Gillard, MN Computers for Schools
Kathleen Gordon, MN Department of Labor and Indiustry
Debra Gramza, Minnesota Computers for Schools
Marilee Grant, Boston Scientific
Julie Graves, Pillsbury United Communities
Alyssa Hawkins, Minneapolis Foundation
Melissa Huppert, Minnesota State Engineering Center of Excellence
Mark Jacobs, Dakota-Scott Workforce Development Board
Katie Jamieson, MN Society of Professional Engineers
Kelsi Klaers, College of Science and Engineering, University of Minnesota 
LaRohn Latimer, Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry
Renae Lenhardt, SciMathMN Board member
Nancy Louwagie, Normandale Community College
Sarah Lukowski, University of Minnesota
Lisa Maloney-Vinz, Ecolab
Michelle Mazzocco, University of Minnesota
Tom Meagher, Owatonna Public Schools
Jill Measells, The Works Museum
Karen  Millette, Minnesota Department of Education
Cheryl Moeller, High Tech Kids
Deborah Moore, University of Minnesota
Deb Morris York, Best Buy
Beth Murphy, Beth Murphy Consulting
Sarah Ness, Southeast Service Cooperative - STEM Forward Program
John Olson, Minnesota Department of Education (MDE)
Jill Paule, Science from Scientists
Doug Paulson, Minnesota Department of Education (MDE)
Elisa Rasmussen, Xcel Energy
Lee Schmitt, Hamline University
Erik Skold, Sprockets
Dan Solomon, PIPELINE Program - MN Dept of Labor & Industry
Katie Staub, Seagate
Paul Strykowski, University of Minnesota
Anika Taylor, The Bakken Museum
Jeff Tollefson, Minnesota High Tech Association
Dana Trouth, Osseo Area Schools ISD #279 Brooklyn Middle STEAM Magnet School
Jean Tushie, Minnesota Science Teachers Association (MnSTA)
Erica Valliant, Science Museum of Minnesota
Kim Van Wie, STARBASE Minnesota
Steven Walvig, Greater Twin Cities United Way
Allison Liuzzi, Wilder Research
Jacob Wascalus, Wilder Research
Ellen Wolter, Wilder Research
Edith Gozali-Lee, Wilder Research
Justin Hollis, Wilder Research
Anne Li, Wilder Research
Sheri Holm, Wilder Research
Wendy Huckaby, Wilder Research
Ann  Somers, Wilder Research
Katherine Harter, Wilder Research
Maria Robinson, Wilder Research


John Alberts, Austin Public Schools
Jessica Aleshire, Boston Scientific
Deb Bahr-Helgen, City of Minneapolis
Deb Besser, St. Thomas University
Anna Bosak, H.B. Fuller
Jamie Brother, Children's Museum of Minnesota
Jason Bruns, Minnesota State Engineering Center of Excellence, Minnesota State University, Mankato
Michael Compton, University of Minnesota Extension
Kari Denissen-Cunnien, Ignite Afterschool
Vic Dreier, Project Lead the Way
John Dukich, Minnesota High Tech Association
Rebekah Dupont, Augsburg University
Andrea Ferstan, Twin West Chamber
Valery Forbes, College of Biological Sciences, U of M
Catherine Haslag, Riverland Community College
Alyssa Hawkins, Minneapolis Foundation
Mark Jacobs, Dakota-Scott Workforce Development Board
Anita Larson, Minnesota Department of Education, Early Childhood Longitudinal Data System
Nancy Louwagie, Normandale Community College
Sarah Lukowski, University of Minnesota Institute of Child Development
Tom Meagher, Owatonna Public Schools
Deb Morris York, Best Buy
Beth Murphy, Science and STEM education consultant
Kathleen O'Donnell, MN Association for the Education of Young Children/MN School-Age Care Alliance
Elisa Rasmussen, Xcel Energy
Maureen Seiwert, University of Minnesota Institute of Child Development
Randy Smasal, Edina Public Schools
Stacy Stout, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce
Paul Strykowski, College of Science & Engineering, U of M
Anika Taylor, The Bakken Museum
Hayley Tompkins, Minneapolis Beacons Network/YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities
Tom Vilsack, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development
Steve Walvig, Greater Twin Cities United Way
Rich Wessels, Minnesota Department of Labor