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STEM is an acronym used to describe certain fields of study that include science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. STEM skills are the foundational skills needed to enter careers in bioengineering, space technology, computer sciences, and more. These skills have been cited as deficient in the American educational system, and a threat to the long-term economic security of the U.S.

One of the most alarming trends is that students in the U.S. are regularly outperformed by peers around the world. Students in Korea, Hong Kong, China, Japan, Belgium, Estonia, Hungary, the Netherlands, Latvia, Russia, Australia, and more regularly outperform U.S. eighth-grade students in math.

Less Ability to Compete

As students are the next generation of workers, this decreased performance among U.S. students in STEM skills poses a risk to the U.S. economy. Eventually, this lower performance will lead to less ability to compete in the global marketplace. As other countries around the world produce more highly skilled graduates, they will be able to help companies develop advanced products and solutions in a more efficient manner than their less skilled U.S. counterparts.

Solving the Problem

President BarackObama has tackled this issue head-on with the Educate to Innovate campaign. This initiative was one of the president’s earliest proposals and has continued to be a focus in his administration. The Educate to Innovate program recognizes that the solution does not lie with schools alone; this program creates private-public partnerships that involve nonprofits, major companies, educational organizations and government agencies to promote STEM. Funding will come from across the board.

Active Partners

While there are literally hundreds of companies involved with STEM, two in particular have made outstanding contributions to the Educate to Innovate campaign and related programs:

1. Intel: This major company that produces components and software for computers and devices is highly involved in Educate to Innovate. In a news release on Jan. 6, 2010, Intel announced a $200 million commitment to STEM education. The commitment includes Intel’s promise to provide 100,000 U.S. math and science teachers a professional development program to enhance their math teaching skills.

2. AT&T: This major company provides telecom services. Through its program AT&T Aspire, it has been actively involved in promoting STEM education since 2008. It is not clear whether all AT&T is working directly with President Obama’s program, but they are actively working toward promoting STEM education.

On March 19, 2012, AT&T released information that it will be launching a quarter billion dollar campaign to help prepare students to enter the workforce or college upon graduation from high school. AT&T uses an intriguing approach that involves “gamification,” web content, and social media strategies to connect with students.

Why the Concern?

The lack of STEM education in the U.S. merges with a perfect storm of exponentially increasing technology, increasing standards from employers, and upcoming baby boomer retirements. STEM jobs offer superior pay and benefits packages to employees when compared to non-STEM jobs. In addition, STEM jobs are estimated to grow by 17 percent by 2018 while non-STEM jobs are estimated to grow by only 10 percent during that same period. In short, there will not be enough people to fill STEM jobs and employers will have to hire more skilled foreign workers or consider relocating abroad, both of which will impact this country’s economic security.

Next Steps for the U.S.

One of the first problems that must be solved is a high school dropout problem. One in four students does not graduate with their projected classes. These dropouts are ill-prepared to enter a STEM–heavy workforce. The dropout problem will continue to perpetuate the gap and contribute to lower competitive ability of the U.S. in an increasingly STEM-heavy business environment.

In addition, the U.S. must continue its partnerships with companies, nonprofits, educational institutions, and foundations to offer STEM education from an early age. For established workers, Workforce Development will be key to ensuring that marketable skills are developed. By developing the skills of existing workers and ensuring there is a pipeline filled with highly skilled graduates, the U.S. can ensure its position as the world leader in technological development, cementing its economic security for generations to come.

Abhipraya Subedi is a professional, adjunct professor, doctoral candidate and adult mentor in the Fairfax County Public School System. You can contact him at abhipraya@gmail.com.