By Aimee Stern, Festival Communications Director
“Fighting a forest fire with 1000 eye droppers.” That’s how David Washington, acting CEO of Change the Equation, a non-profit, described the current effort to improve STEM (science, technology, education and mathematics) education in the United States.
There are hundreds of programs around the country addressing the nation’s need for improving STEM education, but there is no centralized repository of information about them. The problem? Others can’t learn from their success or failures.
This discussion was part of a larger meeting at the White House yesterday about President Obama’s science education initiative called Educate to Innovate. The Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP) talked briefly about the work the president is doing which includes:
Creating a National Discussion about the need for improvement in STEM education by referencing it in his speeches and conversations with industry and other stakeholders.
Making the White House a Science Education Role Model – President Obama held an astronomy night at the White House recently, Michelle Obama attended the finals of DOE’s National Science Bowl this month, science is now part of the annual Easter Egg hunt, and the White House is planning its first ever Science Fair.
Matching Scientists and Engineers with Schools – With help from the private sector, a web site was created to help communities, schools and businesses connect. Called National Lab Day (all acknowledge the name doesn’t make sense), this grassroots effort is building bridges between science, engineering, technology and K-12 education.
Convincing Business and Industry to Get More Involved in educating the next generation of scientists and engineers, both at the grassroots and the state levels.
Providing Support to States so they can Improve Science and Engineering Education through an array of grants and special programs.
Identifying Corporate STEM Education Role Models and sharing what they do right with other organizations who want to help.
A couple of hundred businesses, non-profits, teachers and other STEM stakeholders were invited, including myself as a representative of the USA Science & Engineering Festival.
There was a bit of posturing by organizations who wanted to promote themselves in a high level forum, but for the most part the discussion was lively and focused on a few key issues such as:
There is a brand problem around science. Approximately 30 million children a month watch PBS and other media and they need to be exposed to more science. Many of them don’t think “Science is Cool” and we need to find ways to convince them that it is.
Companies need to step up to the plate. Some have already begun to address the next generation, and the Obama administration is catalyzing this effort. For instance, Bentley Systems, an international software development company launched a program 18 months ago where it gave every employee $250.00 a year to spend on science education with their local schools. So far about $60,000 has been spent by employees around the world. Time Warner Cable has pledged to spend $100 million to get more students involved in science and a national Public Service Announcement Campaign is planned to make science cool again. Ford Motor Company is very active in K-12 education and becoming more involved in STEM.
There was quite a discussion around what many considered the biggest stumbling block to the President’s Educate to Innovate program. Since STEM education is done in pockets around the country, albeit very quietly, there are few clearly identified role models who can help corporate funders figure out what kind of a program they need.
One woman put it quite succinctly when she asked: What’s my to-do list after this meeting? She never really got an answer but we have one for her – become a sponsor of the USA Science & Engineering Festival - it’s a start.
Making Science Cool again is important for the future of science so we would like to hear from all of you: “Why IS Science Cool?” with the Kavli Science Video contest. You have until July 15th to get your video together. Find out more here.
–written by Aimee Stern
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