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Connecting Undergraduates to STEM Careers

January 5th, 2011
By Brian K. Fitzgerald, Executive Director, BHEF

Today, I had the honor of presenting to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) the actions I, and the Business-Higher Education Forum’s members, believe President Obama should take regarding undergraduate STEM education. Specifically, the Council asked me and others to focus on a student’s experience from the transition from high school through a bachelor’s degree, including community and technical colleges and four-year universities.

This was an exciting opportunity, since BHEF is dedicated to advancing innovative solutions to U.S. education and workforce challenges, particularly in the area of STEM, through our Securing America’s Leadership in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Initiative. This initiative has the goal of doubling the number of STEM graduates and advancing promising strategies to bolster the education pipeline, including K-12 and higher education, which lead to STEM careers.

The centerpiece of this work is the BHEF U.S. STEM Education Model—the first simulation model to examine U.S. STEM education using system dynamics principles and tools. The Model, which was built and donated to BHEF by Raytheon Company, has provided a number of powerful insights about the highest leverage points and potential strategies that can lead to increased numbers of students who are proficient in STEM fields, and who may pursue STEM careers.

I was pleased to share with PCAST several insights from the Model, particularly the importance of strengthening STEM undergraduate education as the highest leverage strategy to meet employers’ immediate STEM workforce needs, because despite decades of efforts and billions of dollars invested by federal and state governments, foundations and corporations, fewer than one in five college-bound 12th graders possess the key ingredients of success in STEM—interest in STEM and proficiency in math. Nearly half again as many students who are math proficient have low interest in STEM.

I also advised PCAST that we need a comprehensive, national strategy to staunch attrition, improve learning and connect undergraduates to STEM careers during the critical first two years of undergraduate education, when all too many students who are interested and proficient in STEM switch to other majors. And we need a broad but cohesive coalition of colleges and universities, government and business to support and implement this strategy.

BHEF corporate and academic members are developing just such a strategy though its STEM initiative and we look forward to working with the Obama administration to strengthen these public-private collaborations and advance this important agenda. The recently reauthorized America COMPETES Act, signed by President Obama just yesterday, provides a platform to attack this problem. Stay tuned for more details!


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