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U.S. fall­ing be­hind in sup­ply­ing sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math de­grees

The Washington Times Daily - - Opinion - By Lisa Hook

It can be­gin with a sixth-grade stu­dent who walks into a sci­ence class in awe of a ta­ble full of lab equip­ment such as me­ters and beakers, an eighth-grader who dis­cov­ers how bridges are made or a high school se­nior who designs her very own ro­bot. Even the sim­plest of projects can ig­nite the creative spirit in a child, who could go on to have a star­tling in­sight or make a ground­break­ing in­ven­tion that could change lives, cre­ate en­tire in­dus­tries and build a bet­ter fu­ture.

Un­for­tu­nately, stud­ies show that the U.S. doesn’t have enough stu­dents who are in­ter­ested in pur­su­ing the sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing or math (STEM) de­grees that are so es­sen­tial to achiev­ing suc­cess in the fu­ture. And even among stu­dents who be­gin col­lege in one of these dis­ci­plines, many do not grad­u­ate with these de­grees. Ac­cord­ing to the Pres­i­dent’s Coun­cil of Ad­vi­sors on Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy, just 6 in 10 stu­dents who en­ter col­lege in­tend­ing to ma­jor in a STEM field ac­tu­ally com­plete a de­gree.

This short­age of Stem-ed­u­cated stu­dents presents our na­tion with a mas­sive chal­lenge. Look at the area of na­tional de­fense. We honor our men and women in uni­form who bravely pro­tect our coun­try. Be­hind them is the en­gi­neer or math­e­ma­ti­cian who de­signed the equip­ment on their shoul­ders or the tech­nol­ogy in their pock­ets. Here at home, fam­i­lies and busi­nesses rely on the In­ter­net, telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions and in­for­ma­tion data­bases ev­ery day, and it takes work­ers with ad­vanced cy­ber­se­cu­rity skills to keep these sys­tems safe and se­cure.

The fact is, as other coun­tries be­come more ad­vanced in their tech­nolo­gies, Amer­ica must not only keep up, but be the global leader in gen­er­at­ing the tech­nolo­gies of the fu­ture. That fu­ture will be ours only if we build a steady pipe­line of Steme­d­u­cated stu­dents. To­day in the U.S., just 16 per­cent of grad­u­ates re­ceive de­grees in STEM fields, com­pared to China, where 52 per­cent of grad­u­ates earn de­grees in these crit­i­cal fields. It is stag­ger­ing sta­tis­tics like these that demon­strate the chal­lenge our na­tion faces.

In 2008, there were more than 60,000 engineers work­ing in fed­eral agen­cies such as the Depart­ment of De­fense and the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity. They are the civil engineers who de­sign build­ings that can stand up against nat­u­ral dis­as­ters. They are the com­puter engineers who pro­tect our crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture from cy­ber­at­tacks. It isn’t just engineers; there are math­e­ma­ti­cians and sci­en­tists in the Depart­ment of De­fense whom we should thank for the dis­cov­er­ies that have changed the world, in­clud­ing life­sav­ing med­i­cal re­search and the In­ter­net. If we don’t con­tinue to help stu­dents find joy in sub­jects like en­gi­neer­ing, sci­ence or math, we won’t have enough tal­ent to fill these jobs and the thou­sands of oth­ers in pri­vate in­dus­try that are crit­i­cal for our na­tional se­cu­rity.

Ac­cord­ing to the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Eco­nomic Co-op­er­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment, the U.S. con­tin­ues to lag be­hind other coun­tries in these cru­cial fields — in math, the U.S. ranks 30th among ad­vanced coun­tries across the globe; in sci­ence, the U.S. ranks 23rd in this group. To ad­dress this se­ri­ous prob­lem, Pres­i­dent Obama re­cently made a com­mit­ment to grad­u­ate 1 mil­lion more sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math stu­dents in the next 10 years. He also called on the public and pri­vate sec­tors to work to­gether to in­spire stu­dents to pur­sue these crit­i­cal dis­ci­plines.

States such as Virginia and Ken­tucky also are step­ping up to ad­dress our na­tion’s STEM work­force gaps. Ear­lier this year, Gov. Bob Mcdon­nell an­nounced an ini­tia­tive to strengthen Virginia’s cy­ber­se­cu­rity sec­tor, which in­cluded a fo­cus on im­prov­ing the STEM ed­u­ca­tion pipe­line to pre­pare stu­dents for the jobs of the fu­ture. Ad­di­tion­ally, Neustar, a tech­nol­ogy-fo­cused provider of crit­i­cal telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion ser­vices, part­nered with Sen. Mark Warner and Mr. Mcdon­nell in Virginia and Rep. John A.yar­muth of Ken­tucky to im­prove STEM ed­u­ca­tion and dig­i­tal lit­er­acy in schools through­out these states. But this is just the be­gin­ning. As one of the na­tion’s lead­ing tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies and an em­ployer of hun­dreds of engineers and sci­en­tists, our com­pany knows that in­spir­ing stu­dents to pur­sue ca­reers in these fields is cru­cial for our na­tion’s safety and se­cu­rity as well as a healthy econ­omy. In fact, our com­pany con­tin­ues to hire engineers and com­puter pro­gram­mers all the time, but to­day we have more jobs avail­able than qual­i­fied ap­pli­cants. Fix­ing this prob­lem will take bring­ing all stake­hold­ers to the ta­ble — fed­eral, state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments; ed­u­ca­tors and guid­ance coun­selors; the pri­vate sec­tor; and par­ents. There is not one, sim­ple, easy fix — but a fix is es­sen­tial. We stand ready to do our part to help grad­u­ate more stu­dents in STEM fields to give them the op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate an in­cred­i­ble fu­ture.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY GREG GROESCH

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