WASHINGTON - Faced with increasing competition across the globe, politicians, pundits and the private sector have sounded the alarm that a reinvigorated focus must be urgently applied to American STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math). Lacking that effort, many have predicted that America’s next generation will fall behind the economic and innovation curve, a scenario that could directly impact basic quality of life standards.

Now, a new study commissioned in conjunction with the annual Global Marathon By For and About Women in Engineering and Technology sheds an important light on this vital issue by taking the question directly to one under-tapped resource – America’s teen girls, ages 13-18. Sponsored by National Engineers Week Foundation, the Global Marathon is a nonprofit forum for connecting girls and young women with engineer mentors around the globe.

The survey, conducted by E-Poll Market Research, found that while 38% of girls plan to pursue a career in the sciences, an almost equal number (39%), feel they are not getting a proper STEM education. Significantly, 75% of girls think they will use math in a future job and 61% thought they would use science in a future job. Yet, many felt that school budget cuts and limited resources are inhibiting their ability to receive a well-rounded science education. Many also specifically called for educators to heighten interest in science by making it ‘more hands on’ and offer ‘more experiments.’ Only 18% of girls agreed strongly that they were being ‘prepared to take on the challenges facing the nation,’ when they compared themselves to their peers in other countries.

The perception of engineering among American teen girls fared worse. Only 8% of girls plan to pursue a career in engineering, largely because they don’t know much about it or don’t understand it. 42% of those surveyed felt it would be ‘very difficult’ to pursue a career in engineering. Many said they thought engineering was boring or too difficult, yet they also said they might consider an engineering career “if I knew more about it.”

“The results of this survey could not be clearer,” says Leslie Collins, executive director, National Engineers Week Foundation. “American girls understand implicitly the importance of STEM education but they are frustrated that they are not being properly prepared to take on the challenges they will face when competing on a global level. When you consider that math and science are simply the tools that engineers use, yet engineering scored much lower in terms of interest and aptitude, it becomes obvious that a lot of this comes down to how these girls perceive themselves and their abilities. It is imperative that we look at how we are educating our next generation of leaders, particularly girls, so that we can empower them and provide them with the tools to succeed.”

E-Poll Market Research sampled 877 respondents, yielding a margin of error of 3.3%. The survey was conducted online from March 4 to March 9, 2010.