07/03/2013 03:01 pm ET Updated Sep 02, 2013

Help Your Community Through STEM Service-Learning

President John F. Kennedy once famously said, "ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country." For students in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields, this sentiment holds especially true. According to a 2012 Congress Joint Economic Committee report, STEM jobs are expected to grow at a rate of 17 percent (3 percent higher than non-STEM jobs). In order to fill these jobs, we must encourage more young people to pursue educational paths in STEM. Adults cannot solely shoulder the burden of closing the STEM talent deficit; even as young people, we must become stewards of our own collective future. We must address this talent gap to retain American leadership in research and innovation in a globally competitive world.

Where to start? For college students, specific activities may include performing demonstrations in local classrooms, organizing campus visits to STEM departments, tutoring K-12 students, and engaging social media to make learning science and math cool. However, limited free time for community outreach poses a significant barrier to college-student involvement. One solution to this predicament lies in the burgeoning field of service-learning, community service activities directly tied to one's academic and career goals. Innovative service-learning activities bolster traditional academic curriculum by making the next generation of scientific leaders who learn academic content though practical application in their local communities.

There are several resources available to empower young people who are excited about community involvement. The State Farm Youth Advisory Board supports youth-led service-learning projects and offers grants across US and Canada worth $25,000 to $100,000. The Dell Education Challenge offers $30,000 in prizes and awards to help students put their ideas into action. The Pearson Foundation offers a scholarship award of $1,000 each to 100 Pearson Prize Fellows, college students who have demonstrated leadership in community service. Additionally, several youth-led organizations around the nation can provide resources for STEM activities: VolunTEEN Nation provides a database of volunteer opportunities for teens including STEM-related undertakings, See Your Future develops STEM classroom demonstration materials, and Ecoviate uses STEM concepts to create eco-friendly products.

Several scientific societies, such as the American Chemical Society, the American Physical Society, and the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, also offer grants for youth-led projects. In addition to national resources, there are a plethora of local organizations and campus groups that can offer support, connections, and mentorship. By taking advantage of such opportunities and using the service-learning paradigm to organize the efforts, current STEM students can make great contributions to closing the STEM talent gap.