We All Have a Role to Play in Math and Science Education

June 12, 2012

By Keith J. Peden, senior vice president of Human Resources and Security for Raytheon Company.

A report from Accenture states that there is “no shortage of talent” in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (the STEM fields) -- on the “global market,” that is. However, the United States has been losing ground in the race for qualified workers in STEM.

The numbers are clear enough. On international tests, U.S. students rank 17th in science and 25th in math. When the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ranked countries based on how many of their young workers had STEM degrees, America came in 23rd, well below the OECD average and trailing Spain, Portugal and Turkey. Increasingly, “employers are finding it difficult to hire Americans with necessary skills,” reports a Council on Foreign Relations task force on U.S. Education Reform and National Security

The demographic gaps are also troubling. One-quarter of African-American 12th graders are interested in STEM but not proficient in math. Women remain underrepresented in engineering classrooms. Men earn more than 80 percent of bachelor’s degrees in that field of study.

These trends are unlikely to change if we don’t act soon.

It is a critical time for action – to regain the ground we’ve lost, to spur technology and innovation in our industries and economy, and to protect and bolster America’s competitiveness, prosperity and national security. It's critical for business leaders to play a role in developing the next generation of scientists and technologists.

As the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology says, we need to “prepare and inspire” children to go into STEM fields. This will require commitment from schools, parents, communities – and from companies.

Businesses can partner with educators to develop the STEM pipeline by investing in organizations and initiatives that truly move the needle and make a difference in STEM. Business leaders should encourage their employees to get involved. There are countless ways for STEM professionals to spark students’ interests and help improve student achievement, from coaching a local math team to organizing science fairs. We all remember an occasion in our lives when one individual inspired us and made a profound difference in the direction our lives took.

Many companies are already setting a good example.

For the past eleven years, companies like ExxonMobil and Rockwell Collins have taken part in "Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day," which shows girls how engineers are changing our world.

Some companies, like Lego, provide schools with “STEM kits” so students can make robots or innovate other creations using their imagination and knowledge of science.

At Raytheon, we partner with organizations that expand training opportunities for teachers and sponsor math and science organizations that provide meaningful experiences for students. Our employees actively volunteer in schools and for STEM organizations like FIRST Robotics or MATHCOUNTS. We truly believe one single moment could inspire a student to pursue a career in engineering or science.

My passion for education stems from my background. My parents and sister were teachers, my wife spent more than 30 years in a classroom, and I, in fact, began my career as an educator. I have seen both the challenges and the vast opportunities to inspire and prepare the next generation to pursue meaningful careers and I know the difference one individual can make.

Still, the reality is, regardless of your level of inspiration to engage in the STEM challenge, we all have a stake in the outcome. Our nation’s prosperity and security depends on it. While this effort will require many years to fully achieve, we are a nation of achievers and now is the time to focus and to change the future.

The Institute for a Competitive Workforce, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), will host an event on June 14 to discuss an Independent Task Force report launched by CFR called U.S. Education Reform and National Security. The event, sponsored by Raytheon, will offer recommendations to fix the nation’s ailing education system, which is said to be critical to strengthening security and increasing economic competitiveness. Learn more and register here