TABLE 1-1 Significant STEM Disciplines for the Air Force

Academic Field

Major or Discipline



Natural science


Biological and life sciences


Earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences

Computer science


Physical sciences

Other geosciences


Information Computing



Aerospace, aeronautics, and astronautics engineering

Electrical engineering

Chemical engineering

Computer engineering

Industrial engineering

Civil engineering

General engineering

Nuclear Engineering

Materials engineering Mechanical engineering

Systems engineering


Mathematics and statistics

Operations research and analysis

NOTE: Because specializations change rapidly across the STEM disciplines, no list can be truly comprehensive. Overall, these disciplines rely heavily on mathematics, the physical sciences, and the scientific method.

  • The U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) annually graduates and commissions approximately a thousand officers. In recent years, both the number and percentage of officers graduating with STEM degrees (as defined by table 1-1) have been declining. Currently only about 41 percent graduate with a STEM degree. However, through its requirement that all cadets take a set of core science, mathematics, engineering, and technology courses, whatever their intended major field of study, the USAFA maintains a commitment to ensuring that all of its graduates have a basic level of STEM competence. It currently requires that all graduates must complete 45 hours of course work in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. From time to time, this core set of STEM courses is revisited to ensure that it continues to meet evolving Air Force demands. Thus, the entire pool of USAFA graduates, irrespective of their majors, has a level of STEM competence that should not be ignored in a strategic vision to meet the future STEM needs of the Air Force.

  • If graduates of other accredited institutions have attained a level of STEM competence roughly equivalent to that required by the USAFA, why should they not be considered to be of value in meeting Air Force STEM needs, whether or not they have a STEM degree (as defined by the accepted list of STEM majors)?

  • For many of the STEM-related capabilities described in Chapter 2, an undergraduate STEM degree needs to be supplemented by work experience and professional development. Later chapters include recommendations for ensuring that young STEM-degreed officers and civilians receive the opportunities to acquire this essential experience. Thus, a STEM degree alone is only a condition of entry and needs to be supplemented with experience and training for some of the STEM capabilities the Air Force requires now and in the future.

Throughout this report, the committee has defined and used the term “STEM-cognizant” to refer to individuals who have acquired a sufficient foundation in the use of the scientific method in decision-making. The committee believes that the USAFA requirement for 45 hours of STEM coursework is more than adequate, although the minimum requirement, in course hours and subjects studied, is a matter for debate and decision within the Air Force (see Recommendations

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