STRENGTHENING THE S&E WORKFORCE

Government, industry, non-profits, and academia must engage the national will, if we are to be successful in rebuilding the science and engineering workforce. In the author’s opinion, a list of priorities should include the following:

  • Recognize the key role of science and technology with respect to national security, in the wake of September 11, 2001. The launch of Sputnik in October 1957 stunned Americans, who had thought the Soviets would never best them, and created fear that their Cold War enemy might catch up militarily. As a result, the United States passed the National Defense Education Act, quickly producing government and private aid programs that recruited young people to S&E, and tripled the National Science Foundation (NSF) budget. Similarly, September 11 triggered a patriotic response and a new awareness of the power of technology to protect the homeland, to strengthen the nation militarily, and to mitigate conditions that may foster terrorism. This realization could be used to kindle another national effort to encourage production of scientists and engineers.

  • Tap into the talent inherent in groups that are underrepresented in S&E. The nation has the opportunity to develop the talents of all young people, including those who traditionally have not chosen to study S&E and have not been represented in the S&E workforce. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), for example, the hiring process has been deliberately changed to bring more underrepresented minorities to the faculty.32 Summer undergraduate research fellowships provide one avenue of approach to attract students.



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Envisioning a 21st Century Science and Engineering Workforce for the United States: Tasks for University, Industry and Government STRENGTHENING THE S&E WORKFORCE Government, industry, non-profits, and academia must engage the national will, if we are to be successful in rebuilding the science and engineering workforce. In the author’s opinion, a list of priorities should include the following: Recognize the key role of science and technology with respect to national security, in the wake of September 11, 2001. The launch of Sputnik in October 1957 stunned Americans, who had thought the Soviets would never best them, and created fear that their Cold War enemy might catch up militarily. As a result, the United States passed the National Defense Education Act, quickly producing government and private aid programs that recruited young people to S&E, and tripled the National Science Foundation (NSF) budget. Similarly, September 11 triggered a patriotic response and a new awareness of the power of technology to protect the homeland, to strengthen the nation militarily, and to mitigate conditions that may foster terrorism. This realization could be used to kindle another national effort to encourage production of scientists and engineers. Tap into the talent inherent in groups that are underrepresented in S&E. The nation has the opportunity to develop the talents of all young people, including those who traditionally have not chosen to study S&E and have not been represented in the S&E workforce. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), for example, the hiring process has been deliberately changed to bring more underrepresented minorities to the faculty.32 Summer undergraduate research fellowships provide one avenue of approach to attract students.

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Envisioning a 21st Century Science and Engineering Workforce for the United States: Tasks for University, Industry and Government Emulate successful models. In federal agencies and private industry alike, there are examples of programs that successfully stimulate interest in the study of S&E, engage youth in summer internship programs, fund graduate study and research, and increase the number of students that complete studies in S&E. One example is a U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) program that supports transportation centers at universities. Their funds require a 100 percent match from a non-federal source.33 These centers reach back into the K-12 school pipeline, building interest and offering incentives, such as the Eisenhower Fellows program, which provides grants for master’s degree candidates and for some undergraduates. While only a few go on to work directly for DOT, 92 percent stay in transportation, which is the program’s broader goal.34 Other federal agencies sponsor similar programs. Examples of successful privately run programs include the U.S. First Robotic Competition, which engages more than 10,000 high school students across the country in design competitions in collaboration with industrial sponsors.35 Establish more graduate fellowship programs for women and minority groups that are underrepresented in S&E. More could be accomplished by linking policy to need. For instance, although the U.S. Department of Education offers almost $20 billion in student aid, virtually none of it is tied to the need to enhance the workforce in a particular discipline. There are national needs not only in S&E, but also in teaching, nursing, and other disciplines that could be addressed by a more targeted student aid program. Loan forgiveness is another option, with students receiving an educational loan in return for working a specified number of years in the targeted discipline after completion of their terminal degree. Finally, programs modeled after the Pell grants could be established specifically for S&E majors, as well as portable fellowships. Make better use of education research and modern teaching techniques. Make use of cognition research to better inform pedagogy at all educational levels. Today’s classrooms look much as they did in 1900. Knowledge of how students learn and use information has largely been ignored. The federal government has never invested a large amount of money in education research or in connecting that research to education practice. However, efforts to link technology and industry, as those at the NSF’s Engineering Research Centers, have proven successful;36 these may provide templates for other cross-sector/cross-discipline collaborations.

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Envisioning a 21st Century Science and Engineering Workforce for the United States: Tasks for University, Industry and Government Establish discipline-based teacher models. Teacher compensation must equal that of industry. Under this program, schools recruit from industry scientists and mathematicians who want to teach. The program expedites certification and offers a contract (of perhaps five years), especially in minority population school districts. These contracts would guarantee both teaching and summer employment in a local corporation and possibly corporate consulting during the teaching year. Being taught by these working scientists exposes students early to what science and technology is all about and to its career opportunities. The teachers, in turn, work on the leading edge of new technologies that inform their teaching. The program would also enhance the teacher/scientists’ professional status and compensation, attracting more such teachers to the pre-college classroom. Improve management practices, especially in government laboratories, to attract and retain S&E workers. Design and implement alternative management systems that include such practices as pay for performance, competitive incentives, peer evaluation, and pay and promotions based on agency performance, rather than on years in service. Establish dual, equal-status tracks for advancement in both technical and management positions. Consider more flexibility in hiring, allowing directors autonomously to hire personnel, approve flexibility in work schedules, and compensate workers. Realize that successful managers must understand S&E sufficiently to manage well, but that successful scientists do not necessarily need to be good managers. Cross training of managers and scientists in the management of science, engineering, and technology would correct the disparity. For government scientists and engineers, design work to be interesting and challenging to compete with the lure of higher earnings found in industry. Promote grants that emphasize education and outreach. Using the NSF peer-review grant model, focus on programs of strategic importance. One is the new federal Cyber Service program, which strengthens essential new fields, such as information assurance, through scholarships, stipends, and internships. This requires pinpointing disciplines or sub-disciplines with potential workforce shortfalls, such as aerospace and nuclear engineering. Finally, encourage the coordination of outreach and education programs among federal agencies.

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Envisioning a 21st Century Science and Engineering Workforce for the United States: Tasks for University, Industry and Government Establish teaching fellowships. These fellowships would reward tenured faculty for teaching S&E classes or innovations in S&E education. Create a variety of programs to attract and encourage young women and minority groups into the S&E workforce. Private corporations and some federal science agencies have succeeded in attracting young people to their industries and to science disciplines through presentations in elementary schools, hosting middle and secondary school students in summer programs and providing internships for undergraduate and graduate students. The National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME) and the Girl Scouts also have successful programs aimed at underrepresented demographic groups. More than 234 students have graduated with degrees in science, engineering, and mathematics from the Meyerhoff Scholars program at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County (UMBC) since 1993. The program is the largest producer of African Americans who go on to science Ph.D.s.37 The program combines top-quality research faculty and opportunities for S&E undergraduates to participate in research. For such programs to succeed, at-risk eighth graders must be identified. Summers and weekends on campus allow these students to learn what real science is about. Target graduate students through incentives. For example, provide extra funding, which will allow them to achieve economic stability closer to that of their employed peers. Gather better data. Better data would inform policy-making and provide information for more effective funding investment. For instance, it would be useful to follow various cohorts—postdoctoral graduates, community college students, and middle school pupils—to uncover the points at which students in the S&E pipeline leave, and why. Induce talented scientists to enter and remain in research by a campaign to renew interest in public service careers.

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Envisioning a 21st Century Science and Engineering Workforce for the United States: Tasks for University, Industry and Government Keep funding at appropriate levels. During the 1990s, federal agencies’ share of total R&D funds declined significantly, from approximately 40 percent of total to below 30 percent.38 Federal agencies are now trying to increase funding. The lesson to learn is that consistent federal R&D funding is more important than the micromanagement of research. 32   Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A Study on the Status of Women Faculty in Science at MIT. Cambridge, MA: MIT Faculty Newsletter Vol. 11(4), 1999. 33   Legal Citation: 49 USC Sec. 5505 (2000). 34   Joseph Toole. Federal Highway Administration, October 23, 2001. Personal Communication. 35   For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) 2002. Available online: http://www.usfirst.org. 36   Linda Parker. The Engineering Research Centers Program: An Assessment of Benefits and Outcomes. Arlington, VA: NSF, 1997. Available online: http://www.nsf.gov/pubsys/ods/getpub.cfm?nsf9840. 37   Freeman Hrabowski III. The Meyerhoff Scholars Program: Producing High-Achieving Minority Students in Mathematics and Science. Notices of American Mathematical Society [Vol. 48(1) p. 36]. Available online: http://www.ams.org/notices/200101/comm-hrabowski.pdf [17 Oct 2002]. 38   National Science Foundation. Science and Engineering Indicators 2002 [Figure 4-3]. Arlington, VA: NSF, 2002. Also available: http://www.nsf.gov/sbe/srs/seind02/start.htm).