In the study of American progress, you consistently find a trail of teamwork. The modern approach to fulfilling the United States’ long-term economic needs is no exception, as a coalition advancing knowledge in science, technology, engineering and math is proving.
This network of governmental, commercial, educational, and research organizations is vital to the “acceleration of scientific and technological innovations” that will secure the health and longevity of the economy -- and, consequently, the American economy, said Ross DeVol, Chief Research Officer at the Milken Institute, an independent economic think tank. The United States “must utilize the knowledge assets in their possession such as universities, research centers, and most importantly, the talent that they create or attract to fuel economic growth,” DeVol said.
Companies like Chevron recognize the important role that a robust American STEM-skilled workforce will play in the increasingly competitive global marketplace – and they’re using partnerships with schools and nonprofits to make it happen. Blair Blackwell, the Manager of Education and Corporate Programs at Chevron, explained that building educational networks is an important part of the company’s greater strategy.
“On a daily basis in our business, we have to collaborate across a number of different functions to implement projects of great scale and complexity,” said Blackwell. “In many ways, we bring that same approach to our social investments in education. We recognize that expertise and resources are needed from a variety of different partners to make STEM education reform a success.”
Chevron’s measured, long-term investment in American STEM education reflects that commitment. The company has devoted nearly $100 million to support education initiatives over the past three years. But while massive financial investment is important to facilitate the process, it is the partnership these investments foster -- relationships that enable hundreds of thousands of students, thousands of teachers, and dozens of nonprofit organizations and practitioners to connect with one another -- that Blackwell believes is what really makes a positive impact.
“We engage in a number of ways and have moved far beyond just writing a check,” explains Blackwell. “We also bring to bear our knowledge of workforce needs and our employees regularly act as mentors to students.”
The encouragement of partnerships between a wide variety of organizations will, over the long term, help build large pools of indigenous engineering talent. Edie Fraser, the CEO of STEMConnector, is one of the people who make these types of connections possible. Less than two years ago, Fraser took on the herculean task of finding a new way of connecting the thousands of people, organizations and companies that have a vested interest in advancing STEM with each other -- and has largely succeeded, especially when it comes to the business world.
“The demand side is where we’ve got to build the action,” said Fraser. “The jobs are in STEM – what’s so exciting now is to see the companies step up in their communities and collaborate.”
STEMConnector is an organization headquartered in Washington, D.C. that supplies corporations and other organizations with the information they need to strategically invest in STEM initiatives. The organization works with more than 6,500 business, research and education stakeholders to disseminate data through networking events, newsletters, research reports and several other products. The key, Fraser says, is ensuring that the pipeline of STEM talent is “moving it up and making sure it is geared to careers.”
At California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, such focus on building bridges that connect education to careers is working. Cal Poly Pomona houses one of the largest colleges of engineering in the United States. Cal Poly Pomona, which, according to U.S. News and World Report, graduates about 1 of every 14 engineers in the state of California, would not be quite as prominent if it was not bolstered through partnerships on all sides. To achieve such success, Associate Dean of the College of Engineering Dr. Cordelia Ontiveros works with other schools and organizations to secure a strong pipeline of STEM students, molding them into the STEM workers who will continue the American tradition of innovation. Dr. Ontiveros calls the philosophy of her university and organizations that develop interest in science and math like Project Lead The Way “perfectly aligned.”
“We think it’s a great framework for making a lot of progress,” Ontiveros said.
That need for progress has never been stronger, according to Blackwell, who has worked on social investment projects on multiple continents. “As you go out and travel the world, you find that other countries are innovating,” she said. “If we don’t continue to invest in education and invest in ensuring our students are ready to move from the education system into employment, then we’re simply going to fall behind.”
"Everybody gets that education leads to employment which leads to economic development,” she said.
STEM: How to Educate for America's Future Article Series