Turning the Tide

Can we revive America’s economy if we don’t have workers with cutting edge skills? And how can we make sure that Latinos have those skills? One of the critical issues facing our country is that there are simply not enough workers with the education needed to fill jobs in today’s increasingly global, competitive and digital world.

The U.S. arm of technology giant Siemens Corp. recently reported it has 3,000 jobs open because of the dearth of skilled workers. More than half of those open jobs require science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills. And a recent study by ManpowerGroup found that a record 52 percent of U.S. employers have difficulty filling critical positions within their companies – up from 14 percent in 2010. Many of these jobs require a strong background in STEM, but American colleges are producing fewer math and science graduates. This has led to a skills mismatch in our country. So how do we address this issue?

Improving STEM education for all Americans is the key to improving American employment and income. For minority youth, this is even more essential: In 2009, the Hispanic population accounted for 14 percent of the total U.S. workforce, but only six percent of all STEM workers, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. The bottom line is that our nation needs to move swiftly to ensure that Hispanic children have access to high-quality math and science education that will provide them with the skills to be college-ready and move into higher-paying jobs.

STEM workers are more likely to be employed, and they are more likely to have jobs with better pay. The unemployment rate for workers who only have a high school degree is twice that of college graduates. Graduates in STEM fields are in particular demand---eight of the 10 fastest-growing job markets require knowledge of math and science. A 2011 study by Georgetown University showed the 10 majors with the high highest median earnings were petroleum engineering, pharmaceutical sciences, mathematics and computer science, aerospace engineering, chemical engineering, naval architecture and marine engineering, mechanical engineering, metallurgical engineering and mining and mineral engineering.

Since 2007, the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) has made educational excellence in our public schools its primary mission. With the support of ExxonMobil and others in business, education and government, NMSI is expanding opportunities for success in America, particularly for traditionally underrepresented students.

NMSI’s goal is to get more American students college-ready---and prepared for the jobs of the future---by dramatically increasing their success in Advanced Placement (AP) math, science and English classes in high school. Why is this important? Passing AP exam scores are generally accepted for course credit by the nation’s colleges and universities, and universities see success in AP courses as a reliable indicator of students’ capacity for college-level thinking.

More important, high school students who pass an AP exam go on to graduate from college at much higher rates than comparable students who do not take AP courses. This is particularly true for minority students: Hispanic students who passed an AP exam had a college graduation rate of 62 percent, as compared to 15 percent for those students who did not.

NMSI has a proven track record of success with its Advanced Placement Training and Incentive Program (APTIP), which is now implemented in 13 states across the country. The program model---a combination of training for teachers, mentoring for students, and financial incentives for students and teachers---is producing life-changing results, particularly among minorities.

In schools that have implemented APTIP for the last three years, the number of students earning qualifying AP scores on math, science and English exams has increased by 124 percent, compared to 23 percent nationally. The number of Hispanic students earning qualifying scores on AP math, science and English exams increased by 182 percent, compared to 53 percent nationally. The number of female students earning qualifying scores on AP math and science exams increased by 144 percent, compared to 20 percent nationally

While those scores are cause for optimism, there is still much to be done. STEM education needs to be a top national priority so that students like Harker Heights High School senior Eduardo Gonzalez, who mastered AP calculus so he could pursue a career in civil engineering or landscape architecture, will have every opportunity to achieve their dreams.

We need more parents and communities to provide encouragement to our young people when it comes to math and science education. Our country faces an array of tough issues---unemployment, healthcare, environment, energy, cyber security challenges---that can only be solved with new ideas that are rooted in STEM education.

Time is running out to answer our nation’s need for more educated workers. We must increase our global competitiveness and provide the opportunity for high-paying STEM jobs to more Americans. NMSI has made a commitment to turn the tide in American education, particularly for under-represented students. We hope you will join us in this important mission.

Dr. Mary Ann Rankin is the CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative.

Stem Means Jobs for Latinos

There has never been a more critical time in our country’s history to address our economic competitiveness and job crisis. After being in industry for many years, and then going to the middle school classroom as a teacher, I experienced first hand that the worlds were radically different. It was almost as if I entered a time warp machine. What our students were learning in school was completely disconnected from what was happening out in the working world. The contrast was so stark and with no common language between education and industry, how could there be change?

For several years I worked in North Carolina, connecting industry to education by advancing STEM. It was there I learned some staggering obstacles facing our future innovation economy---the majority of future jobs in this country require STEM skills and yet 74% of our 5th through 12th graders were not interested in or had access to the science and math courses that would prepare them for the these jobs. I then had another major realization. I still remember the day---April 29, 2008. The President of the University of North Carolina system, Erskine Bowles, was addressing a group of industry partners that I had convened to discuss the critical gaps in our workforce. President Bowles then highlighted the tremendous growth in the Hispanic population in North Carolina and that within a decade there would be more kindergarten Hispanic students entering education in North Carolina than any other population combined.

That is when I knew it was time to return to the Southwest where I grew up. Within six months I had convinced my husband to relocate to New Mexico. I approached Intel Corporation to start Innovate+Educate, and together with some top industry partners, including Lockheed Martin Corporation, we created a national board of Fortune 500 companies focusing on addressing our future STEM workforce to advance a globally competitive economy.

The statistics strongly support that changes must occur…and quickly. Approximately 73% of all students in higher education today are “non-traditional” meaning that they must work while they are in school. Hispanics are a large percentage of this population. Innovate+Educate is working directly with industry to open-up pathways for young adults in internships, mentorships, summer employment, and part-time employment. The conversation must change with industry on how they hire, who they hire, and what they consider to be a “career-ready” employee. Otherwise, our young adults will not have the option of continuing their education due to the need to work at the same time.

In addition, the conversation must change with education at the federal level. School is no longer working for many young adults, as indicated by the 2,600 students dropping out of high school every single day. (In Albuquerque, the Hispanic youth dropout rate is close to 60%). Some urban cities report a high school dropout rate as high as 70%. Schools must adapt to the needs of society today, not society when education was developed in the 1920s. Most jobs will require, at a minimum, a two-year postsecondary degree or credential. How will we get there with the grim situation we see now?

As we enter into 2012, Innovate+Educate will be focusing on these top issues at the National STEM Summit 2012, recently announced and led by U.S. News & World Report. The Summit will be held June 27 to 29, at the Sheraton Hotel in Dallas, Texas. This STEM Summit will bring together all fifty states, top industry, national nonprofits and foundations, higher education institutions and policy makers to discuss the critical issues around education and workforce readiness. It is vital that all voices be represented at this STEM Means Jobs Summit and I strongly urge the Hispanic community not only attend but actively participate in helping to shape the future of our country. Join us at http://www.usnewsstemsummit.com/. How we will get there is still an unknown, but partners like LATINO Magazine can help us. We must realize that we are in a critical situation in our country and that the only way to get to the other side is through deep and meaningful partnerships, with all sides willing to make huge leaps and bounds by first changing their practices from the past and then working together towards a new economy…for our youth and our own futures.

Jamai Blivin is the CEO of Innovate+Educate. For more information go to http://www.innovate-educate.org.