Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Math & Science: It Is Up to Business

Great Op Ed on the "America Competes" legislation...

Friday, January 25, 2008
Math and science: It's up to business
Washington Business Journal - by George Nolen

"The dominant competitive weapon of the 21st Century will be the education and skills of the workforce."

-- Lester Thurow, former dean of the MIT Sloan School

As one who oversees a company built on innovation, the recently signed "America Competes Act" gives me renewed hope that the U.S. will be able to produce enough engineers and scientists at a critical moment in our nation's history. While other countries are challenging America's technological leadership, we've fallen behind in filling the talent pipeline. In a recent study, American 15-year-olds scored below average in science and math when compared with students in 25 other countries, ranking close to the bottom of the international list. The new law doubles the funding for basic research programs in the physical sciences, gives teachers the tools they need to improve math instruction at the elementary and middle school levels and offers lower-income students greater access to Advanced Placement coursework to help them succeed.

As an electronics and engineering company that employs 70,000 Americans, Siemens makes its living off innovations that must sell in an intensely competitive global marketplace. For us, strengthening America's commitment to math and science is a critical business issue that transcends quarterly results. Over the next five years, the demand for scientists and engineers in this country is expected to outstrip the overall growth rate for other occupations by at least 70 percent. Yet to date, as a nation, we are falling far short in preparing the next generation of Americans for these critical jobs. Only one in five U.S. 12th graders scored at or above proficient on the National Assessment of Education Progress science test in 2005. And each year, the U.S. loses $2.3 billion in lost productivity as a result of high school graduates needing remediation in math and other skills in college and in the workplace.

While the new law is a much-needed shot in the arm by government, more needs to be done by the private sector as well. In my own company, we had been providing scholarships to the high school science students whose research projects won the national Siemens competition in science, math and technology. But to make an impact we knew we had to reach a much broader student audience. Now our employees volunteer in fifth-grade science classrooms. And in addition to continuing the high school science competition, our nonprofit Siemens Foundation now provides grants in each of the 50 states to the top male and female students in the science and math Advanced Placement test and to college students who commit to teaching math or science. While a few other companies, notably Intel and IBM, also have programs to promote math and science education, I believe every company that benefits from innovation can contribute to this important national cause.

Those contributions don't need to be financial. Employee participation in science classes and other grass-roots initiatives also sparks interest among younger students. It has been proven that the earlier you reach a child in math and science, the more likely he or she will pursue those subjects later in life. We can't even imagine what next big thing those young people will invent. We do know it will be vital to the future of our country and we do know it won't happen unless government and business work together to restore America's standing in math and science education.

George Nolen is the president and CEO of Siemens Corp., based in New York. Siemens employs more than 500 people in Washington.

No comments: