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A new study shows that you don’t have to have a four year degree to work in STEM 

Jenn Liv for NPR

About a third of Wyoming’s workforce is in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and it turns out that is about double than originally thought.

STEM jobs are typically thought of as really hard to get. That’s because it usually requires a lot of school, time and money. One usually thinks of a chemist or a high end engineer as STEM, which can be daunting for a lot of people, said Rachel Kerestes, the executive director of Sciences is Us, a public policy science group.

“They get daunted by that pathway thinking, ‘I know I need a bachelor's degree or I need a doctoral degree. I'm going to be in school for the next 10 years. And it's going to cost a lot of money, time, resources to get there,’” said Kerestes.

Kerestes worked on a study to help end that stigma. She found that more than half of STEM professions actually do not require a four-year degree, and she said that matters because STEM jobs typically pay more.

“They produce more in terms of broader economic output,” she said. “They produce more in terms of tax revenue, they really provide really excellent pathways for folks into the middle class and into that sort of economic prosperity that we all want to enjoy.”

In Wyoming, the majority of people working in STEM are in professions that do not require a four-year degree, such as, auto mechanics, electricians, nurses, morticians and drilling rig workers. But, prior to this study, Kerestes said they might not have been thought of as STEM professionals, because of the education stigma tied to the industry.

“The other thing that's true in Wyoming as it is across the country, is that there's lots of STEM professionals sort of hidden in plain sight,” she said. “So if we're not counting those folks without bachelor's degrees, we're not really accurately capturing the STEM professionals in the state.”

Her hope is this study will encourage people to look into STEM professions as careers.

“This is important because these are really the jobs of the future,” Kerestes said.

Some growing industries in the state that would be classified under the STEM branch are wind and nuclear energy.

According to the report, about $18.3 billion is generated from the STEM industry that contributes to Wyoming’s economy.

States with the largest percent of their workforce in STEM were Washington D.C., Michigan and Massachusetts. Wyoming ranked 43rd.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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