What Is STEM2D?

STEM2D is an acronym that refers to Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Manufacturing, and Design. The STEM2D subjects are:
  • Science: Observing, studying, and experimenting in an effort to better understand the natural world and how it works.
  • Technology: Science or knowledge put to practical use to solve problems, invent useful tools, envision new possibilities, or establish meaningful connections between people and the world that surrounds them.
  • Engineering: The practical application of science and math skills to everyday life.
  • Mathematics: Quantitative framework (numbers, quantities, shapes, abstract principles, and problem solving) for describing the world.
  • Manufacturing: Creating something from raw materials by hand or by machinery.
  • Design: A collaborative activity that results in better human experiences by uncovering unmet needs and championing meaningful relationships through user-friendly products, environments, and systems.

In addition to subject-specific learning, STEM2D is an approach to or way of understanding, exploring, and engaging with the world. In this sense, STEM2D disciplines cannot be considered in silos and applied STEM2D is often interdisciplinary, as presented in the activities that accompany this guide. STEM2D fosters inquiring minds, logical reasoning, creative thinking, problem solving, and collaboration skills. These are the capabilities and skills that prepare students to become the future innovators, educators, researchers, and leaders, who can solve the most pressing challenges of tomorrow.


According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, STEM occupations are growing nearly twice as fast as non-STEM occupations. This STEM occupation growth is prevalent worldwide resulting in STEM workers earning 26% more than their non-STEM counterparts. Although it is difficult to provide specific job titles—because the actual job may not exist yet—it is very clear that high-growth, high-demand jobs of the future will require a basic understanding of and skills in STEM subjects. In addition, STEM disciplines suffer from high attrition. Fewer than four out of 10 students who plan to get a degree in a STEM major will actually get one.

Following the global financial crisis of 2008, there are millions of young people who are neither employed nor in education or training, referred to as “NEETs.” NEET rates rose in both the United States and the European Union during and after the crisis. Many EU countries’ NEET rates remain well above pre-crisis levels. In the United States there were 10.2 million NEETs, ages 16–29 in 2015. This need for workers with STEM skills is a persistent and growing global trend, resulting in a skills mismatch, further demonstrating the need for relevant educational experiences for young people.

For many girls who start out strong in mathematics and science, interest wanes along the way. There is clear evidence supporting the fact that girls and young women often receive social cues—regularly reinforced in conscious and subconscious ways by parents, teachers, university professors, and even managers on the job—that they cannot compete with male counterparts and, therefore, should not pursue their goals in STEM2D fields.

The result is what is often referred to as a “leaky pipeline,” in which talented girls eventually steer away from careers in STEM2D and pursue work in fields where they will receive more positive reinforcement and do not have to fight as hard to carve out their place in the world.

STEM2D Identity

STEM2D identity refers to a person’s beliefs, attitudes, emotions, and dispositions about STEM2D and her or his resulting motivation and approach to learning and using knowledge. It involves the ways students think about themselves in relation to STEM2D and the extent to which they have developed a commitment to, are engaged in, and see value in STEM2D. Girls in particular have a conflict between their self-identity (“people like me”) and their perception of who does STEM2D (“not people like me”); they struggle to identify with STEM2D culture and professionals.

Understanding how and under what circumstances STEM2D identity develops is crucial to increasing girls’ interest, engagement, and performance in STEM, and ultimately enchantment with STEM2D. Lack of a STEM2D identity is often cited as one of the main reasons that girls do not pursue STEM2D education and careers. The existing literature on the development of girls’ STEM2D identity points out the importance of the learning environment as a community of girls and young women and the need to create learning environments that foster self-efficacy and agency.

There are three aspects of a positive STEM identity:

  • Interest: Young people who are interested in STEM2D, like to do STEM2D. They are excited about it, express curiosity in STEM2D subjects and want to try more activities. In one study, elementary students who showed this kind of interest reported taking further STEM2D classes in middle or high school.
  • Confidence: Young people who have confidence in their abilities, can do STEM2D. They will persist in the face of initial failures. This is an essential feature of a growth mindset—the idea that ability and competence grow with effort. Research points out that with a growth mindset (as opposed to a fixed mindset), you believe that the harder you work, the smarter you grow. People with a growth mindset are more persistent, are encouraged by failure, and choose challenging work and subjects to study like STEM2D.
  • Relevance: Young people who understand the relevance and value of STEM2D, want to do STEM2D. They understand STEM2D’s relevance in contributing to society and solving global and local problems, and they see how STEM2D intimately connects to their everyday lives.

Identity is not static; it is developed through social processes and shared experiences. It has been documented that girls create “identity in practice” by combining knowledge from their in-school and out-of- school worlds. The ability to see oneself as proficient in STEM2D is formed through a community of practice created by a teacher or any role model who provides space for children and youth to bring knowledge from their social worlds to their study of math and science.

STEM2D Philosophy

Based on research, we know that it takes a comprehensive approach to engage and keep girls interested and excited about STEM2D. This comprehensive approach includes:

  • Collaboration and teamwork: Collaboration and teamwork give young people the opportunity to work with others to design, produce, or create something.
  • Hands-on, minds-on learning: The hands-on part of learning means that young people are engaged, trying things out and physically manipulating ideas so that they stay interested. Minds-on learning requires an active involvement with learning in which young people are curious and keep their brains active with challenging ideas.
  • Inquiry-based investigation: Inquiry-based investigation is a method of instruction that starts by posing questions, problems, or scenarios rather than simply presenting established facts.
  • Project-based work that has real-life applications: Project-based work is a teaching method in which young people gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period to investigate and respond to a real-life engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge.
  • The opportunity to build confidence: Confidence or a feeling of self-assurance arises from the appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities and the receipt of positive feedback for his or her efforts.
  • Exposure to diverse role models: Diverse role models—a person whose behavior, example, or success can be emulated by others—is critically important and a powerful message for young women and girls.

STEM2D Everywhere and for Everyone

To spark and enchant young people around the world in STEM2D subjects, we need to reach them where they are—in urban centers, small towns, villages, and rural communities. STEM2D must be accessible and available in a broad variety of places or settings: at schools, after-school programs, museums, community centers, libraries, business conference rooms, and village squares.

Although the research is specific to girls and this guide was created with girls at the focus, hands-on, minds-on learning that builds confidence, teamwork, and provides diverse role models and mentors is not exclusive to girls. STEM2D benefits all young people. Girls and boys can benefit from STEM2D exposure and learning. STEM2D is for everyone.