Massachusetts isn’t churning out enough college graduates in the field of computing to meet the demands of the current job market. So said representatives of Google, Microsoft, and Intel during a meeting with Massachusetts lawmakers on Wednesday at a Tech Hub Caucus meeting held at the State House.
According to Steve Vinter, engineering and site director at Google’s Cambridge office, “Computing… is not a tech sector problem, it is a Massachusetts economy problem.” Vinter pointed out that while more than 70% of new STEM jobs require advance computing skills, inadequate computer science offerings in Massachusetts schools have created a shortage of workers to fill the available openings. One solution: Spark interest in computer science by introducing the subject earlier in students’ school careers.
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The Boston-based non-profit Citizen Schools has long been working with corporate partners to bring exciting STEM experiences into the classroom and give students access to STEM professionals. Now, Citizen Schools will working with corporations on the US2020 project with the goal of having 1 million STEM professionals mentoring K12, college, and graduate students throughout their careers by the year 2020. In addition to changing the landscape of STEM education by giving students these opportunities, they also hope to change the workplace for those in STEM careers by making volunteering a common occurrence. Citizen Schools will be incubating this project until June 2014. Cisco, Cognizant, and SanDisk are the founding corporate partners.
With an estimated 14 million people currently out of work in the US, how can there still be a shortage of qualified workers to fill STEM positions? The disconnect was one topic discussed at last week’s STEM Solutions 2012 leadership summit in Dallas. Leaders seemed to agree that inspiring students to follow an educational path in STEM subjects is key to solving the crisis. But the question of the role that companies might play in enticing and helping to cultivate talent is still unanswered.
In terms of where, specifically, the talent gaps are, experts are divided. Many cite math as an area in which American students are lacking, pointing to the emphasis on standardized testing — rather than real-world applications — as the measure of our students’ math ability.
Several possible solutions to the problem of the shortage of trained STEM workers were voiced at the summit. Among them: creating university/industry partnerships, promoting STEM careers among students, and enhancing STEM education in grades K-12. Some participants felt that companies should bear some of the responsibility for communicating their needs clearly and coming up with innovative hiring practices and training programs. “Industry really needs to engage in a much closer relationship with educational institutions,” said Melinda Hamilton (photo, above), director of Idaho National Laboratory’s education programs. “They have to share their strategic plans. They have to share their growth projections and why they’re predicting this area will grow. They have to be involved in saying not just ‘Here’s what we need,’ but also how we get it.”
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Thinking about applying to law school? An undergrad degree in a STEM subject is a selling point these days. While the typical law school applicant of a decade or so had a humanities background, today’s recruit is more likely to have a grounding in the sciences. Driven by the tremendous growth in technology, the trend in law school admissions is yet another sign of the rapidly increading importance of STEM in the job market of tomorrow.
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In his blog, “Arthropod Ecology, Christopher M. Buddle, Associate Professor in McGill University’s Department of Natural Resource Sciences makes the case for a scientist’s responsibility to do outreach. The five points he makes supporting his argument are: 1) scientists have specialized expertise; 2) scientists have credentials; 3) scientists are critical thinkers; 4) scientists are communicators; and 5) scientists are passionate. For all these reasons, scientists have the knowledge and power to alter perspectives and inspire others. Read Buddle’s whole post here: arthropodecology.wordpress.com
A new report by the National Academy of Sciences casts the shortage of talent in STEM fields in a new and unsettling light. The military — and therefore our national security — could be hurt by a lack of personnel adequately trained in science and engineering. “We’re in the bullets, bombs, and guns business, but that’s just a piece of what the big mission is,” said Laura Adolfie, who heads STEM Development at the Department of Defense’s office of the assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering. “We have scientists and engineers across the gamut. We have social scientists that perform important human performance research, technicians, welders, lab workers.” An already small pool of workers well equipped to do these jobs shrinks even further when you factor in the citizenship requirement for jobs with the military; many STEM graduates in America are foreign-born, and therefore not eligible to apply for military positions. Among the strategies under consideration for working around the shortage of ideally credentialed and trained employees in STEM disciplines: loosening qualifications. “There is scope within the current DoD system of controls for reducing the number of positions requiring clearances, depending on security threats,” the report says.
Speaking at Northeastern University’s CEO Breakfast Forum yesterday, Raytheon Chairman and CEO William H. Swanson emphasized the critical need to inspire a new generation of STEM leaders. “Virtually every business is technology dependent today, so we all have a stake in replenishing the STEM pipeline,” he said. “Businesses certainly see the benefits of a stronger STEM pipeline with a highly skilled workforce driving innovative new products, systems and solutions.”
“I always was fascinated by weather,” says New England meteorologist Mish Michaels. A member of the Massachusetts Science & Engineering Fair board of directors, the TV veteran has early memories of a tornado blasting through her family’s Baltimore, MD apartment complex — an experience that helped form her fascination with the weather. Currently taking a break from her TV meteorologist job to raise her young daughter, Mish has a new children’s clothing line called Natural Cloud Cover, consisting of weather-themed organic t-shirts and onesies. A percentage of sales goes to the Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory in Massachusetts. Mish is living proof that there’s no limit to where an interest in science can lead!
While a string of recent reports have emphasized the critical need for more and better trained STEM professionals, too many of those in a position to answer the call over the short term — students ages 16 to 25 — do not see themselves in science and engineering careers.
Why such reluctance? Respondents to the Lemelson-MIT Invention Index cited factors ranging from lack of knowledge about the relevant fields, to perceptions that they are ill-prepared for the demands of STEM professions. On a positive note, innovation fared well in the survey: 80% of respondents said they would be interested in courses that helped them “become more inventive and creative.”
In partnership with the International Center for Professional Development (ICPS), leading biotech companies are working to increase diversity in the industry through the Scientist Mentoring and Diversity Program (SMDP). This program gives scholarships to 30 graduate and post-doc students from underrepresented minorities to participate in the year-long program. Student attendance at the BIO International Convention, scheduled for June 18-21 in Boston, is a component of the opportunity. The program also provides participants with a mentor and access to contacts in the industry. “Minorities are underrepresented in the biotechnology industry as in many other science, technology, engineering and math professions, and the biotechnology industry is doing something about it,” says Scott May, executive director at the International Center for Professional Development. “This effort is important for many reasons, but in particular, a diverse workforce is more productive as it brings a larger pool of ideas, skills, and experiences that collectively increase the knowledge base required for scientific innovation.”