Blog: Need for Math and Science Majors Is Out of This World

February 17, 2010
By Henry Kenyon

For my article in the February 2010 edition of SIGNAL Magazine, titled "Research in the Final Frontier," I interviewed members of the Defense Department's Human Spaceflight Payloads Office and Space Test Program about the experiments they help put into space. The projects impressed me, as did the sources' firm belief in the importance of what they do to help warfighters. At the end of our interview, I asked the gentlemen to indulge me on a personal question: "What would you recommend to a child like my son, who wants to grow up to become, as he calls it, 'a space scientist?'"

Craig Lamb, the deputy director of the Human Spaceflight Payloads Office, replied that the most important thing to do is to keep challenging oneself in education. This means pursuing subjects like science and mathematics-"not the easiest thing to do," he said. However, he added, to him it was the most rewarding thing to do.

His remark got me thinking. On the surface, it sounds simple enough-study math and science. But the sad fact is that not many U.S. students are choosing those paths. Representatives from various major contracting firms have lamented to me about the trouble they have finding qualified mathematicians and scientists capable of obtaining a U.S. security clearance. A year ago at an AFCEA SOLUTIONS event, Gordon England, the deputy secretary of defense, stated that the declining number of college-level science and engineering students poses one of the greatest long-term threats to our country's security.

Programs such as AFCEA's scholarships for students majoring in technical fields exist to encourage students to pursue these less-traveled paths of study. But I'd also like to know what our readers think and what they have experienced.

Do you agree with England's statement? If you work in government and industry, do you have trouble finding the right talent in the areas of math and science? If you're a student, why are you or are you not majoring in these areas? Do any of you run programs to encourage pursuing these fields of study? Let us know!

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Most data suggests that we have a lack of students successfully completing programs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), particularly in certain subfields. The association I work for, the Association for Career and Technical Education, advocates for career and technical education pathways starting in secondary and going into postsecondary education that can helps students find a greater interest and relevance in STEM and follow through on becoming a STEM professional.

This issue brief we produced looks at the lack of STEM professionals and a possible solution through CTE pathways, with examples of specific projects: http://www.acteonline.org/uploadedFiles/Publications_and_Online_Media/fi...

Catherine,

Thanks for sharing this information.

Rita Boland

We seem to focus our energy and resources on the students we want to be interested STEM, and not enough
time and resources on those who actually are interested in it. If I ran a science and engineering summer camp
that, through no design or conscious effort, attracted 30 kids a year who were mostly suburban males and mostly from the same socio-economic background, I would have a very difficult time getting any corporate or government funding. Why is that? I am all in favor of the programs that encourage the underrepresented students, but not at the expense of the adequately represented, and not in a field so devoid of any students.

Rita - thanks for the post, and you're spot on that many of today's U.S. students are shying away from math and science. Knowing this, it is more important than ever for all STEM professionals to show our young students the importance of math and science in our lives. By creating an example that illustrates how both math and science are an integral and fun part of their lives, we're working to ensure our country's talent pipeline. At my company Raytheon, many of our busy engineers have volunteered in our MathMovesU program, which is committed to increasing U.S. students' interest in STEM through interactive, hands-on programs.

I'd like to congratulate and continue to encourage volunteers in all programs across the board who have dedicated countless hours to changing the lives of our students. With a united effort, we can help inspire students to value, enjoy and pursue STEM fields in their futures.

Jennifer,

Thanks for passing on the word about this program. Anyone who would like to know more can visit www.mathmovesu.com.

Rita Boland

Get a degree in engineering & science and your job chances are much higher ...

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