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Science Professionals: Master‘s Education for a Competitive World
Soviet Union, the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) provided support for education in critical areas of national need. NDEA provided funding to enhance research facilities; fellowships for thousands of graduate students pursuing degrees in science, mathematics, engineering, and foreign languages; and low-interest loans to undergraduates in these fields. Funding for NDEA (adjusted to 2008 U.S. dollars) was about $500 million to $600 million. By the 1970s, other federal programs had largely superseded NDEA, but those provided an important further expansion of federal support for undergraduate education through student loans, tax policy, and grants.1
There is growing consensus that we are again at one of those moments when we need bold action. Technology has driven American growth and provides opportunities for the future. The competition for talent, both domestically and globally, is challenging U.S. technological leadership, and the nation needs to act. Talent is one of the important keys to innovation and competitive success. The master’s-trained segment of the science workforce is pivotal: strengthened master’s education in the natural sciences will prepare professionals who bring scientific knowledge and also the ability to anticipate, adapt, learn, and lead where and when needed.
The traditional science master’s degree does not meet this need. A reinvigorated master’s degree in the natural sciences provides an opportunity to meet this challenge by training adaptive innovators and service scientists solidly based in science, linked to industry, and possessing communication, business, and teamwork skills. The enhanced master’s programs recommended in the following section will provide students with connections to real-world problems. The graduates will be entrepreneurial, experienced in teamwork, and focused on problem solving. The programs will produce graduates who have a deep knowledge of science, the ability to work at the intersection of science fields, and practical business skills that will allow them to make a contribution in the workplace from day one.
The time is now right to accelerate and spread nationally the development of this new concept—that is, professional science master’s (PSM) education that is interdisciplinary in character, strongly emphasizes effective communication and problem solving, and provides an understanding of entrepreneurial skills and technical innovation. Successful programs that have responded to this challenge have engaged collaboratively a broad set of stakeholders—employers, prospective students, faculty, government agencies, and other funders—in designing curricula, defining
See Box 7-2. The National Defense Education Act. National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, 169.