Investing in next generation innovators

Last week, we celebrated some of the nation’s greatest young researchers at the 2014 Intel Science Talent Search Gala, underscoring the need to reauthorize a fully funded America COMPETES Act to help our nation’s future innovators. The COMPETES Act keeps America on a path of leadership in the increasingly digital world economy and encourages activities to increase and enhance science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education to train the next generation of innovative thinkers and doers. 

The Intel Science Talent Search is the nation's most prestigious pre-college science competition and the finalists represent the future of U.S. innovation and competiveness. We celebrate the achievement of these students because one day their contributions to science will help solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges. The top prize went to 17-year-old Eric S. Chen from San Diego, whose research could lead to a new class of drugs to control influenza outbreaks during a pandemic. Eric and the 39 other students represent our future scientific leaders, developing math and science research that has the potential to positively impact people’s lives and ensure that the United States remains at the forefront of technological innovation and global economic growth. 

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The choices and investments we make today will play a pivotal role in determining economic growth, technological innovation and America’s place in the world. The future of American innovation depends on talented, creative students, like the Science Talent Search finalists, our ability to encourage more young people to pursue careers in STEM and a national commitment to continue aggressive investment in scientific research and development. This is an effort that both sides of the aisle can shore up by reauthorizing a fully- funded America COMPETES Act. 

In our increasingly global economy, curiosity, critical thinking and a strong foundation in math and science are necessary for tomorrow’s workforce to compete for the high-tech jobs of the future. In fact, according to the National Science Board, growth in math-intensive science and engineering jobs outpace overall job growth by three to one. Young people are the key to solving global challenges, and a solid math and science foundation combined with digital literacy skills are crucial for their success. To wit, over the past decade, Intel has invested more than $1 billion in math and science education. 

The America COMPETES Act is critical to supporting government agencies, such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Institute of Standards and the National Science Foundation, that focus on solving challenges critical to the nation. In tandem, public-private partnerships are necessary to advance these efforts and invest in our future through increased investments in STEM research and education. 

As President Obama once said in a speech on the economy: “This is our moment… We’ve got to rebuild on a new and stronger foundation for economic growth. We need to do what America has always been known for: building, innovating, educating, making things.” Rebuilding starts with investment today. 

Cleveland is vice president of Global Public Policy at Intel.