STEM @ Work: Plotting a Course for STEM

Why b-schools are the perfect link between business and science.
STEM @ Work: Plotting a Course for STEM

“DO BUSINESS SCHOOLS have a role in STEM education?” We posed this question during a panel presentation at AACSB International’s Associate Deans Conference in Phoenix, Arizona, in November 2013. It’s a question that still deserves much greater attention from business schools than it’s currently getting.

We need only look at what’s happening in industry. Organizations in all sectors are finding that their future growth and productivity are tied to tech-based fields; they need new hires with the business skills to work across disciplinary chasms to tackle difficult problems. Consider the following: Is Goldman Sachs an investment business or is it really a STEM firm? We contend that the firm’s clients, investments, operations, and personnel are increasingly driven by science, technology, engineering, and math considerations. Distinctions between STEM and non-STEM disciplines are rapidly disappearing in companies in every sector—and that means that business schools should be part of the STEM conversation.

STEM also has become a national policy imperative, as U.S. corporations and government agencies allocate ever more resources to STEM-focused scholarships, grants, programs, and awareness initiatives. But even while many view STEM education as critical to producing 21st-century economic and technological leaders, some countries still lag behind. Brazil, China, and India produce more technical workers than the U.S., the U.K., and Japan—and the gap expands each year. Business schools can help close the gap and leverage the skills of STEM talent by tapping into three of their biggest strengths: educational programs, industry partnerships, and advocacy.


Business schools have long participated in technology through their IT-related programs, in math through operations research and statistics, and in science through topics such as actuarial science. The growth of analytics and big data presents an opportunity to integrate the business school’s traditional strengths in operations, marketing, management science, information systems, and statistics. To become a recognized force in STEM education, business schools must develop strategies around their greatest asset—their programs. They can do so in three important ways:

Integrate STEM into curricula.
Business schools can bring STEMbased cases, tools, solution sets, and research into relevant business programs and courses. They also can create more opportunities for students with STEM backgrounds to work with the business school.

Actively recruit STEM workers and undergraduates.
Business schools must learn to speak a STEM-centric language more fluently to attract this pool of potential students.

Create integrative degree paths.
Establish formal agreements within the university to offer undergraduate students in traditional STEM disciplines the option to earn master’s degrees in business, from “4+1” programs to joint degrees. (See “Wired for Business" to read more on how several schools launched such efforts.) They also need programs that go beyond one discipline to systematically incorporate multiple STEM areas. Business schools are uniquely positioned to serve this integrative role.

Pursue STEM designations.
Most important, business schools must document their STEM programs to ensure eligibility for certain financial aid, federal grants, or visas. In the U.S., this means making sure that applicable programs qualify for one or more STEM-designated Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) codes. Developed by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics in 1980, CIP codes now are used by the Department of Homeland Security to determine eligibility for extended visas and serve as the de facto basis for STEM designation.

7.4 MILLION WORKERS were in STEM fields in the U.S. in 2012. By 2018, their ranks are expected to grow to 8.65 million.*

To receive a STEM-designated code for a course or program, administrators must determine which code is applicable and then submit a proposal that argues for the classification (or reclassification, in the case of an existing program) to the appropriate governing body at the university. Until recently, CIP codes were used primarily for institutional research, so the university may not have measures in place to change a code. Those submitting the proposal must be prepared to work through this process.

MORE THAN 40% of awarded degrees in China are in STEM. In the U.S., that number is just over 12 percent.

Traditional business disciplines such as accounting, economics, entrepreneurship, finance, information systems, marketing, operations, and statistics can participate in STEM programs that focus on information technology, IT auditing, actuarial science, analytics, cybersecurity, and project management. Because such programs often are collaborative and cross-disciplinary, they place the business school at the center of the universitywide STEM conversation.


Business schools can tap into their deep partnerships with industry to drive innovation and develop programs relevant to industry needs. The Fox School of Business at Temple University achieves this through its university-wide entrepreneurship programs and industry-focused competitions on digital innovation and analytics. The Carey School of Business at Arizona State University sponsors programs like the Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative to support innovation across the ASU campus. Other schools have started STEM-centric incubators in partnership with local industry, capital funding programs, and collaborations on National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant programs.

Business schools also can create certificate programs that integrate innovation and entrepreneurship activities and further the training of STEM workers pre- and post-graduation. Such targeted programs will help students from traditional STEM fields recognize that the basics of business—communication, engagement, collaboration, teamwork, presentation, and the ability to tell meaningful and compelling stories—are prerequisites to success.


article, writes in a November 2013 piece that appeared on the news site ZDNet, “Business schools have a bigger megaphone and can promote STEM better in the field” than traditional STEM disciplines such as physics and computer science. The business school can be both cheerleader and catalyst for STEM initiatives, communicate and transfer new STEM innovations, and serve as a partner in the creation of new programs. Most important, business schools must come together to raise awareness in two important ways:

They can create a STEM directory for business schools. We currently do not know how many business schools have STEM programs. By creating an international survey and inventory, we could collect information about STEM programs and raise awareness of business schools’ contributions. We also could use the survey to share solutions to the challenges involved in setting up STEM designations—information that will be critical as business school seek to change the national conversation.

ABOUT 28% of freshmen at U.S. colleges and universities—around 1 million—declare interest in entering STEM fields. More than 57 percent of them lose interest in STEM by the time they graduate.

They can participate in policymaking. Administrators and faculty need to better engage in national STEM discussions and make policymakers more aware of business schools’ contributions. They should attend conferences focused on STEM and serve on national and local committees focused on policy making, funding allocation, and awareness at the grassroots level.

Recognition of business schools’ contributions to the STEM issue will not come automatically. We will need to promote a sustained initiative on a national level to change perceptions.


Some have argued that the importance of STEM is overblown, including Robert Charette, president of the Virginia- based risk-management consultancy ITABHI Corp. In “The STEM Crisis Is a Myth,” his 2013 article in IEEE Spectrum, Charette argues that not enough jobs exist for STEM graduates and that employers are increasingly valuing acquired knowledge and skills over formal STEM degree programs. Others claim that it has become a national pastime in the U.S. to be anxious about sources of competitive advantage.

These arguments highlight the need to define more clearly the knowledge areas that drive interest in STEM. Even so, we believe that STEM offers great possibilities, and that business schools with STEM-focused programs will see many short-term and medium-term benefits, such as greater access to grants, scholarships, and visas, and more opportunities for cross-disciplinary teaching and research. They’ll attract students who understand the importance of combining business knowledge with STEM skills, encourage broader industry engagement, and design programs that better prepare students to solve problems and lead technological innovation.

71% of STEM jobs in the U.S. will be in computing by 2018.

To the casual observer, business schools may not seem relevant to STEM, but the opposite is true. In his 2010 working paper, “The Evolution of Science-Based Business: Innovating How We Innovate,” Harvard Business School professor Gary P. Pisano identifies challenges faced by science-based business organizations, such as the need to manage risk, integrate across disciplines, and leverage community learning. “Addressing these challenges calls for a new ‘organizational technology,’” he writes. “While technological progress creates potential for economic growth, that potential can be realized only with complementary innovation in organizations, institutions, and management.”

Achieving organizational innovation is at the center of the business school mission. But as long as we stay silent, we reinforce the impression that the business school’s role is akin to that of a historian, limited to “explaining what has been done.” Business schools can help shape STEM’s future, but if they aren’t more active in the national discourse, they risk becoming irrelevant.

* Data sources: The 2012-2013 report “Where Are the STEM Students?” from STEMconnector and MyCollegeOptions,; and the 2011 report “No Shortage of Talent: How the Global Market Is Producing the STEM Skills Needed for Growth” from Accenture,

Munir Mandviwalla is founding chair of management information systems and executive director of the Institute for Business and Information Technology at Temple University’s Fox School of Business in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Michael Goul serves as department chair and professor of information systems at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University in Tempe. Larry Dignan is global editor-in-chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet, as well as editorial director of ZDNet’s sister site TechRepublic. Brad Jensen is a former senior vice president and chief information officer of U.S. Airways.