STEM education: The stakes couldn’t be higher

By Dr. John R. Quinn, Executive Director, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics

Background – The Challenge 

Randallstown High students presenting a DNA demonstration at Halstead Academy.

Judith A. Ramaley, former director of the National Science Foundation’s education and human resources division, has been credited as being the first person to brand science, technology, engineering, and mathematics curricula as STEM. Swiftly adopted by numerous institutions of higher education, as well as the scientific communities, the concept of integrated STEM studies has become an important focus for education policy and workforce development.

Major reports describe the importance of STEM Education and its link to the employment community. The National Academies of Science’s 2007 report Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future warns that our nation’s future economic prosperity depends upon our ability to attract more talented students to STEM careers. The 2009 final report of the Governor’s STEM Task Force, Investing in STEM to Secure Maryland’s Future, concludes that STEM education is critical to sustaining and enhancing Maryland’s status as a leader in a knowledge-based economy.

The governor’s report recommends that we provide professional development to all STEM teachers to ensure that they have the knowledge and skills to help all students successfully complete college– and career–ready curricula, and that STEM internships, co-ops, or lab experiences be provided for all interested high school and college students to jump-start their successful transition to the workplace.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. Maryland recently reported that, of an estimated 6,000 annual openings for STEM employees, more than 2,000 of the jobs went unfilled due to a severe shortage of qualified candidates.

A Solution – The Baltimore County STEM Alliance

With the goal of engaging and preparing more students to pursue rigorous STEM courses, extracurricular programs, and pathways that lead to STEM careers, Baltimore County Public Schools has adopted the position that a deeper collaboration with higher education, government, industry, nonprofits, and families is necessary. BCPS believes that it is critical that all stakeholders share an understanding of business needs, emerging technologies, and educational potential, while working to develop strategies to meet future STEM workforce demands. These strategies include initiatives that promote student awareness of STEM career opportunities and providing interested students with role models and mentors.

To facilitate the collaboration that is necessary, BCPS recently teamed with the Community College of Baltimore County to launch the Baltimore County STEM Alliance (BCSA). The BCSA is a support organization committed to:

  • spotting and nurturing talent,
  • developing innovative curricula and programs,
  • connecting industry and education professionals,
  • identifying and developing resources, and
  • supporting teacher professional development.

For the 2012–13 school year, the BCSA will seek to expand its membership and attract more partners who are willing to work with the students and teachers of Baltimore County, while also seeking alternative sources of funding to support new STEM programs. The BCSA plans to host several career-related events for students and parents and will also host its second educator conference in the spring of 2013. Up–to–date information about the Alliance and its programs can be found at www.bcstemalliance.com.  Stay tuned for announcements about next events.

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