Our nation has a long and proud history as a global leader in the development of technological breakthroughs and the development of revolutionary products that change and save lives around the world. In recent years, however, fewer young Americans are entering fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and as a result, our global competitiveness is in jeopardy. For the past six years, the majority of patents issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office have been awarded to international owners, and fewer American students are pursuing advanced science degrees and the World Economic Forum ranks the United States 52nd in quality of math and science education. We can and must do better.
At the same time, STEM occupations are poised to grow more quickly in the future than the economy as a whole. More than half of our nation’s economic growth since World War II can be attributed to development and adoption of new technologies and this area holds the path toward sustainable economic growth and prosperity for the next 50 years. A report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the workforce projected 2.4 million job openings in STEM fields by 2018. Only by developing a generation of workers prepared for those opportunities can America secure its continued global competitiveness.
A critical component of solving this crisis is recognition on the part of government leaders and the business community that public and private resources must be brought to bear. During my time in Congress, we worked to create policies that made STEM education a national priority and President Obama has continued that focus throughout his Administration. Training teachers, reaching traditionally underrepresented populations and ensuring funding is available for the groundbreaking research that goes on daily at America’s national labs and other facilities are all investments that will pay tremendous dividends in the future.
Perhaps the most important element, however, is making science more and more appealing to America’s youth. To that end, I am proud to be a part of the USA Science & Engineering Festival, the nation’s largest such effort, which will take place at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington DC on April 26th and 27th. The Festival was founded on a simple premise: society gets what it celebrates. Now occurring for the third time in our nation’s capital, this Festival is poised to be the best yet. The Festival’s creator, Larry Bock, a highly successful serial entrepreneur, has assembled a tremendously diverse cast of participants that will make the last week of April in Washington DC truly the “Superbowl of STEM”.
The Festival will present thousands of hands on, interactive, engaging programs for people of all ages and from science enthusiasts to novices. Hundreds of thousands of participants will meet science celebrities and inventors, learn about new technologies, and see for themselves the amazing feats of innovation. The unique assortment of the country’s leading technology companies, colleges and universities, community groups, federal agencies and professional societies is tremendous. The commitment on behalf of such varied participants underscores the importance of this effort to our future.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved a resolution supporting the goals and ideals of the Festival and designating the days it will take place as “National Science Week”. Such recognition of and commitment to solving this crisis of competitiveness is heartening. Years from now, historians will look back to these years as those that changed the tide and created a generation of inventors and explorers who will solve the challenges of the future and keep America the innovation center of the world.
Short Bio: Bart Gordon served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1985-2011 including as Chairman of the Committee on Science & Technology from 2007-2011. He is currently a partner at the global law firm K&L Gates LLP