As the career fields of Schwarz, Glenn, the Google partners, and others like them grow, so too does the need for a better-trained workforce. It may come as no surprise then that many companies have made STEM education a priority in their corporate social responsibility programs. Strengthening school programs and building interest in STEM subject areas will help young people develop the skills and expertise needed to survive in an increasingly competitive and global marketplace.
Where We Stand
Recent reports have shown that the U.S. is lagging behind other countries in many K-12 math and science performance measures. So, what’s the situation really like? Here’s a sampling of facts and statistics from the 2006 Science and Engineering Indicators about how the U.S. measures up and what this means for our workforce.
* The 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Sciences Study shows that U.S. students scored above the international average when compared with developed and developing nations. However, only 7% of 4th and 8th graders in the U.S. scored an advanced level on the test, while in Singapore, 38% of 4th graders and 44% of 8th graders achieved an advanced level.
* About 33% of 4th and 8th graders and less than 20% of 12th graders in the U.S. achieved proficiency in math and science tests given by the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
* Foreign-born individuals accounted for 22% of the science of engineering workforce in the U.S. in 2000.
Reaching Out: Companies Get Involved
Companies have leveraged their unique talents and workforce needs to aid STEM development in schools. LEGO Systems’ Creativity Awards target 6- to 13-year-olds who demonstrate creative talent and problem-solving skills, and awards $5,000 grants to students to help fund their personal creative development. Kids are encouraged to go beyond art and music, and think creatively about solutions for everyday problems, whether it’s addressing a community issue or developing an invention. LEGO’s Creation Nation Web site also profiles adults like Sawaya and Glenn who have applied their LEGO skills to real-life careers.
"We have seen countless examples of children who grew up playing with LEGO bricks who now are contributing their problem-solving skills, innovative minds, and creative perspectives to communities and businesses around the world," LEGO Systems president Soren Torp Laursen said. He added that the awards will help "shape the future" by encouraging the "builders of tomorrow."
Other companies also have created innovative STEM education programs. The Raytheon Company launched MathMovesU with the goal of making math and science interesting and accessible for middle-school students. Lockheed Martin supports the Space Day Education Initiative, MATHCOUNTS, and National Engineers Week. And the Toyota TAPESTRY Grants for Teachers Program, which is administered by the National Science Teachers Association, awards grants to K-12 science teachers for creative classroom projects involving environmental education, physical science, and literacy and science education.
Expanding the Scope: Additional Ideas and Efforts
Businesses aren’t the only ones getting involved in STEM efforts. The National Science Board last month approved a draft action plan to bolster the STEM education system to meet the needs of the 21st century. The plan advocates coordination and collaboration among major stakeholders to build a scientifically literate society and improve the STEM education workforce. Congress last month passed a law that gives $43 billion for STEM research and education over the next three years, including student and teacher scholarship and grant programs, and research and development money for small and mid-size businesses.
The intense focus on strengthening STEM education and development from companies and the government alike is giving students and teachers the opportunity to build a better understanding of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. This base will serve to build a U.S. workforce ready to meet — and solve — the challenges of today’s world.