Invest in STEM

While a half a million manufacturing jobs added to our economy in the last three years is certainly welcome news, the U.S. still faces an endemic challenge to win in today’s global economy: fixing the innovation deficit by catching up to our competitors in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).  Today, the World Economic Forum ranks the U.S. as 48th in quality of math and science education. If we continue on this path, research and innovation will take place in other countries, squandering any potential of advanced manufacturing in the U.S.

We know the economic value created when research and development jobs are co-located with manufacturing. So, while we continue to foster training and apprenticeship opportunities that close the skills gap and create an advanced manufacturing workforce, we also need an education system that supports and encourages tomorrow’s innovators.   

The ingenuity for this strong research and development base is all around us – as we were just reminded at the 2013 Siemens Competition. Take last year’s winners as examples. Eric Chen, a high school senior from San Diego, won the top individual prize for research that speeds up the development of new anti-flu drugs to protect against future outbreaks. And the all-female team of New York students that discovered a gene that has the potential to make plants more resistant to ozone, drought and other environment stressors that damage crops, threaten the global food supply chain and cost billions of dollars per year.

Unfortunately, students like these that are too often exceptions to the rule, as evidenced by the early December rankings revealing American high school students are slipping further behind in international science and math scores.

It doesn’t have to be this way. What it takes is an investment in the minds and ambitions of the future inventors and innovators whom we hope one day will find a home making things at Siemens or for any of our thousands of customers – or even competitors—around the globe.

But how do we get more students to understand the value to investing their education in STEM? Four ways:

  • Showcase the Opportunity: From Steve Jobs to Elon Musk, STEM has become pop culture. But we must ensure young students understand the path to the opportunity. With STEM jobs growing at three times the rate of non-STEM jobs and STEM majors earning more than non-STEM majors, marketing the career and earning potential that comes with a strong STEM background is essential. 
  • Invest in their future and yours: Harvard University Professor Michael Porter says that companies must maximize long-term success by embracing the “shared value” principle – creating both economic value and societal value. Businesses that invest in STEM educational not only create a pipeline of talent to fill critical jobs, but will also address a serious social problem. That investment could include sponsoring research programs, apprenticeship trainings, and donating equipment and curriculum to colleges and universities. 
  • Support state-based “Common Core” standards:  Adoption of student achievement standards, known as “Common Core” standards, would provide a broad but even set of goals for all students and educators while also uniformly measuring how American students stack up when compared to their international counterparts.
  • Celebrate Success: This country spends a lot of time celebrating athletes and entertainment celebrities, but we don't spend enough time recognizing scientists.Competitions such as ours or Google’s Science Fair make STEM competitive, support outstanding achievement, and incentivize students to strive for serious prize money. The winners of these competitions can serve as role models for other students and inspire thousands of other kids to engage in research.

We all have something to gain from investing in our students. This winter we didn’t simply award $500,000 in scholarships to the Siemens Competition National Champions; we recognized 20 researchers – representative of many – who will soon improve and saves lives while creating real value for the U.S. economy and the communities that depend on it.

Spiegel is the President and CEO of Siemens Corporation. Etzwiler is the CEO of the Siemens Foundation.

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