Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Building a STEM Nation with "MissionSTEM"

While we all know that STEM fields need to be the focus of education reform these days, the statistics never get easier to take in. In 2009, more than 1.5 million U.S.citizens earned bachelor's degrees, but only a mere 4.4 percent were in engineering and just a small 1.1 percent were in the physical sciences.  Further, only 2.4 percent of the undergraduate degrees earned were in computer science and mathematics represented just 1.0 percent of degrees.

Not surprisingly, the National Science Foundation 's National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics reported that a very small 0.8 percent of all bachelor's degrees earned in 2009 were by women in engineering and 0.2 percent of those earned were by African Americans.

For a country that wants to maintain status as a world leader in STEM, these numbers aren't just startling, they're unacceptable. Just recently, NASA took these statistics to heart and set out to change them. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said that NASA wants "the nation's STEM degree programs to be more welcoming, supportive and accessible to all students."

With that in mind, NASA launched MissionSTEM.nasa.gov, a Web site created by NASA'a Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity, to assist colleges and universities in strengthening their STEM programs.  The site connects NASA with its grantees, professional STEM organizations and other interested stakeholders in order to creatively address issues like recruitment and retention of diverse students.

Way to go, NASA! Emerging programs like this one and Change the Equation's iONFuture are steps in the right direction for the nation's STEM future. Combined with NGSS efforts and political legislation, the United States should be starting to move up the competitive STEM ladder.

So, where will we find the future of STEM? As Bolden says, "We will find it in every community, in every university and college and in students of every socio-economic background. The talent is out there. It always has been."

Creating programs like MissionSTEM is just the start. The rest of the battle involves making the commitment to encourage and support American students to pursue their STEM dreams.