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 LAST WORD

Opinion by Irving Pressley McPhail

Industry Can Help Us Diversify

Budget woes make the private sector a crucial player in STEM.


Training our underserved talent pool will preserve America as the world's innovation leader.Increased private investment is essential to providing greater access to quality higher education in the United States. And nowhere is this more important than in the realm of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education.

The United States has enjoyed a privileged position of global leadership in technology and innovation since the Second World War. The country, however, has reached a critical time during which it needs to work aggressively to cultivate its domestic STEM talent pool in order to remain a global leader. The question is, how? Currently the government is divided over the national budget, and educational systems are stretched as far as possible. In response, the government, corporations, and nonprofits have started joining together to form innovative public-private partnerships. PPPs are driving initiatives across the country to recruit and train teachers, spur curriculum improvements, and increase the ranks of students studying STEM, from grade school to graduate school.

The PPP model has been used to improve road systems, hospitals, security services, and of course, educational systems around the world with great success. While considered somewhat controversial by some because of the perception that they will increase the involvement of government in the private sector, PPPs are not new. On the contrary, these arrangements have existed since the Roman Empire. They persist because they are mutually beneficial for government and the private sector.

One area where PPPs could make a crucial difference is in helping diversify the engineering profession. A recent study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce showed that engineering majors enter the workforce commanding some of the highest salaries around. The study, unfortunately, also underscores a major challenge facing the STEM community – the underrepresentation of African-Americans, American Indians, and Latinos among engineering majors. We have both a national shortage of engineers and an engineering workforce that does not reflect an America in which nonwhites will shortly become the majority.

America’s corporations have resources and tools available to invest in our next generation of innovative leaders. By putting in place the appropriate funding and programs that provide STEM education and training for our underserved talent pool, we ensure that we will have the intellectual capital to reinforce our nation’s position as the world’s strongest economy and source of innovation.

In June, I was in the audience as President Obama announced an expansion of Skills for America’s Future. The initiative, launched by the Obama administration last year, exemplifies the power of the PPP model in promoting partnerships among industry and community colleges to focus on workforce development strategies and the educational necessities that will prepare America’s youth for the jobs that will drive our economic growth.

Among the specific programs the president outlined was Creating Our Next-Generation Engineering Workforce, in which more than 5,000 young people will be able to benefit from a mentorship program and scholarships being expanded by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), the SME Education Foundation, the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering Inc. (NACME), and the National Academy Foundation. 

The focus on community colleges in Skills for America’s Future is critical, as these institutions provide minority and economically disadvantaged students access to opportunities in STEM. NACME has established a similar PPP model in Milwaukee, called the NACME STEM Urban Initiative, to help underrepresented minority high school students gain an education and enter the STEM workforce.

Another example of a PPP model comes from the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center). The NGA recently launched a PPP between various states and Innovate+Educate, a nonprofit that acts as a bridge between industry and states to advance STEM education. This partnership shares information on best practices for revamping higher education systems and leveraging industry investments.

Increasing diversity in STEM opens the doors for new approaches to solving problems and allows for new ways of thinking and thus the potential for greatness. We need talented individuals in STEM fields. Strong public-private partnerships will help build this workforce.

 

Irving Pressley McPhail, Ed. D, is president and chief executive officer of the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering Inc. (NACME).

 



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