President Barack Obama last week launched a new initiative to improve the participation and performance of US students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The project, called Educate to Innovate, will include efforts by the federal government, companies, foundations, nonprofits, and science and engineering societies in working with young people to encourage participation and achieve success in STEM.
“The key to meeting these challenges—to improving health and well-being, to harnessing clean energy, to protecting our security, and succeeding in the global economy—will be reaffirming and strengthening America’s role as the world’s engine of scientific discovery and technological innovation,” according to a statement by Obama. “And that leadership tomorrow depends on how we educate our students today, especially in those fields that hold the promise of producing future innovations and innovators. And that’s why education in math and science is so important.”
In his remarks, the President offered some sombering statistics on the US position in STEM. American students ranked 21st out of 30 in science literacy among students from developed countries, and 25th out of 30 in mathematics literacy, according to the 2006 Program for International Student Assessment comparison conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The Educate to Innovate campaign is a part of a larger goal to attract young people to science and engineering, to improve academic success in STEM programs, and extend STEM education and career opportunities for underrepresented groups, including women and girls. The initial commitment of the private sector for the program is $260 million and includes participation from Intel, Kodak, Time Warner Cable, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Carnegie Corporation. Obama says the administration will be participating as well through launching a national annual science fair with the winners coming to the White House. He added that he will be also be challenging the private sector to improve the rate of college graduates, so by 2020, the US will lead the world in producing college graduates.
The interrelationship between science and economic development is also being tracked on a more immediate basis. In mid-November, the Association of American Universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and the Science Coalition, launched ScienceWorksForUS, an initiative to highlight the scientific research and related activities made possible through current stimulus funding provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). According to ScienceWorksForUS, the ARRA provided approximately $21 billion for scientific research and development, the purchase of scientific equipment, and science-related construction. The ScienceWorksforUS site identifies the number of grants, overall funding, and projects in a given state resulting from the stimulus science-based funding.
Current fiscal policy, private efforts, and public–private partnerships to promote education and business development in science and technology are sound investments. Let’s hope that these efforts will yield near-term and long-term dividends.