The workshop’s final activity was to engage in an open discussion, moderated by Thomas Rudin, director of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Board on Higher Education and Workforce, on two sets of questions:
1. What can institutions, businesses, and federal agencies do now? What can you do now based on what you have heard over the past day and a half to take steps forward, either alone or in collaboration with others?
2. What are remaining research questions that need further attention?
Jennifer Davis, from Goodwill Industries International, pointed out her organization, as well as others such as Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, United Way of America, and Job Corps, is in every state and serves predominantly the underrepresented populations that the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) community wants to reach. Goodwill Industries works in the public schools, operates charter schools, provides college navigators to help students be successful in college, and has partnerships with community colleges nationwide. “We could be your partner, but our degrees are in social work and anthropology,” said Davis. “We are not skilled or prepared to talk about STEM, but our aspiration is for the people we serve to have great careers.” She said Goodwill and other national nonprofit organizations are serving
the pipeline of individuals who want to move up the economic ladder. “We would love to partner with those of you who might be interested in reaching the people that we serve and building our capacity to deliver that support,” said Davis.
Rudin asked Davis what Goodwill would need from industry and higher education to be successful. She replied that one approach, which the organization has used with other industries, would be to bring representatives from a STEM industry to Goodwill’s headquarters for an all-day discussion about pathways, identifying the skills and credentials that are in demand. Goodwill would then bring in the local agencies that are interested in participating in the program and form an affinity group to enable peer sharing and peer learning. “We share what we learn nationally so that the local agencies can use that with local industry,” explained Davis. “We also put together training programs, sometimes at Goodwill, sometimes in partnership with local community colleges.”
Brian Mitchell, from the National Science Foundation (NSF), commented that some academic institutions are creating avenues for their students to get involved with local schools, such as through service-learning opportunities, and he noted there is now a Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education designation for such opportunities. “Many undergraduates now are civically engaged, and service learning is one mechanism by which you can connect academics through reflective observation and learning to make a difference in a community in partnership with local community nonprofit partners,” said Mitchell. He added that these are structured activities, and there is information available on how to develop and structure such programs. “This is one way to connect what we are doing at the research level that goes to the broader impact discussion,” said Mitchell.
Meghan Wills, from the National Governors Association, suggested state and local government and state and local workforce investment boards can play an important role in bridging what industry is looking for with what the education system is doing to prepare students. These boards are chaired by someone from industry, she explained, and they can bring that industry perspective to help ensure that the public workforce system is successfully preparing students for jobs. Those entities, she added, can serve as the convening bodies for these discussions. Rudin noted that states, and not the federal government, are often the main forces in supporting workforce training budgets and policies and that states need to play a central role in any effort on workforce development and education going forward.
Christine Burgess, from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said one thing the STEM community can do now is think both about how to build diversity into all programs and about how to implement metrics to truly measure the impact of these efforts. It is important, she
said, to provide a framework organizations can take off the shelf and adapt easily to evaluate diversity to inform their efforts. Rudin asked Burgess what she thought about the impact of institutions creating new positions such as chief diversity officer, and she replied that if the chief diversity officer goes out and pushes people in the organization to look at what they are doing and provides resources and ideas to help them make the changes that will improve diversity, that is a positive step. “There has to be a commitment by the institution and the right person to be pushy,” said Burgess.
Daniel Atkins, from the University of Michigan, made two suggestions on steps that could be taken in the relatively near future. Today, he said, there are many places where public schools are being converted to STEM or STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) schools, and the curricula at these schools are largely project based. He asked if anybody is looking at the landscape of these schools and identifying lessons that could be translatable or generalizable. His other suggestion is to think systematically about what might come from being more intentional at reducing the barriers between formal and informal learning systems and building synergy between the two to create a new ecology of learning. He noted this is the theme of a MacArthur Foundation effort on connected learning that is not focused on STEM but is not hostile to it either. Rudin, posing a rhetorical question, wondered why school districts create these alternative schools with project-based curricula to serve select groups of children—and not all children.
Beth Buehlmann, from the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS), said from her perspective of someone who was a congressional staff member for more than 20 years, one problem is that the NSF has a different taxonomy of STEM disciplines than does the U.S. Department of Labor, which has a different taxonomy than the one used by the U.S. Department of Education, and so on. “We cannot even talk about this problem across agencies unless we develop a common definition of STEM,” said Buehlmann. She then commented from CGS’s perspective that the STEM community is not doing a good enough job getting across the message that an investment in graduate education is an investment in a public good that benefits our local communities and society as a whole. “We are not getting that message out in a way that is understandable and that convinces the federal government to fund graduate student education,” said Buehlmann. In particular, she noted that many high-demand middle-skills jobs are filled by individuals with master’s degrees, yet federal agencies are not supporting the programs that would produce those middle-skills employees.
Meredith Hatch, from Achieving the Dream, Inc., said that when talking about the STEM pathway it is critically important for institutions, businesses, and federal agencies to think about pathways in terms of on-ramps and off-ramps and not as straight lines. “That is the way students are get-
ting prepared for STEM careers,” she said. Community colleges, she added, play a growing role in providing those on-ramps. Rudin noted that half of all undergraduates in this country are at community colleges.
Celeste Carter, from NSF, reminded the workshop participants that her agency had funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to offer an equivalent to the professional science master’s degree in only 1 year, a program that she said was “wildly successful.” The program that she runs today at NSF, the Advanced Technological Education program, has a request for proposals for projects that would infuse business and entrepreneurial skills into technician education programs and provide students with a better understanding of what working in industry entails and how they might start their own companies when they develop their own ideas. This program started as a community college innovation program that brought 10 finalists to NSF for a week-long boot camp that included meeting with venture capitalists and an evening reception at the Capitol that was attended not by staffers, but by representatives and senators.
Regarding building diversity, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) took a different approach, said Aprille Ericsson, from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. At the end of 2013, MIT aligned provost positions with diversity themes and women to create a new position that includes equitable treatment to empower and leverage diversity. While that represents an important step, Ericsson’s concern is that it does not impact recruitment. She then made two suggestions: “If every person here mentored one student, think of the impact that would make,” she said. “Imagine, then, if that became a national theme—if each STEM professional mentored a student.” She proposed creating an inexpensive web-based infrastructure where students could select a STEM professional as a mentor and that would use e-mentoring via Skype and other technologies to expose students of all ages to the many careers available in STEM. Her second suggestion regarded all of the federal STEM employees who are projected to retire over the next decade: “What if these individuals went back to schools and taught something about their profession?” asked Ericsson. “If that brainpower would go into schools and help with things like robotics clubs and other activities, we would be infusing all of that brainpower back into our youth, giving them an experienced person to talk to about the relevance of their classes.” Carter added that STEMconnector1 has already collected 400,000 pledges toward its goal of signing up one million women mentors.
1 STEMconnector is “a consortium of companies, nonprofit associations and professional societies, STEM-related research & policy organizations, government entities, universities and academic institutions concerned with STEM education and the future of human capital in the United States.” More information is available at http://www.stemconnector.org/; last accessed January 06, 2016.
Lida Beninson, an American Association for the Advancement of Science Science and Technology Policy fellow at NSF, recommended a paper on collective impact that talks about the importance of cross-sector coordination and partnerships for enabling large-scale social change of the sort that this workshop has been addressing (Kania and Kramer, 2011). In this paper, the authors state there are a few factors that lead to a successful collective impact project: having consistent measurement across all of the involved partners; having a solid infrastructure with somebody overseeing the work that all of the organizations are doing; and having a project that is coordinated, not redundant, appropriate to the locale, and consistent with the project’s mission.
One question that needs further research, said Debra Stewart, former president of the Council of Graduate Schools, is How are developments in technology going to transform the workforce in the future, including how many workers we will need? Some projections, she noted, say that within 20 years the workforce will only need to be 20 percent of what it is today, and as an example she wondered what the impact of the driverless car will be on future employment in the transportation industry. “What if the workforce of the future looks nothing like the workforce of today?” asked Stewart. Carol Van Hartesveldt, from NSF, added a corresponding question: What are the ways in which new technologies are going to change education and research and what will the impact be? She also noted that NSF, with a budget of $7 billion, can be catalytic in its funding but not sustaining.
Jodi Wesemann, from the American Chemical Society, proposed two questions that need further research: What is the strategy for taking what is happening in education research and our discipline-based education research and bringing it into classrooms, programs, and partnerships? What are the strategies for taking a successful program and translating it into different environments, across disciplines, and across all educational levels?
Matthew Wilson, from NSF, listed several questions in the National Science Board’s most recent report: What are the barriers that people who get STEM degrees but do not go into STEM careers encounter, particularly for women and minorities? Is it in their interest to forge new pathways not yet characterized as STEM? What are the influences that motivate career pathway changes throughout a career? Where do people learn the “employability” skills that employers are saying they need? Given that degrees do not necessarily reflect skills, how does the federal statistical system measure skills and how can it adapt and update these measures to reflect skill levels?
Betsy Bizot, from Computing Research Association, posed these questions: What do career paths look like, since most are not linear? What do people do with their skills and how should data to answer this question be collected and used to better prepare people for careers?
Roy Swift, from Workcred, asked: What can we learn from other models of change? He cited the case of health care, which is moving from a hospital-based model to a community and population-based model. He suggested that STEM should develop a community education model and look at how to develop a learning community and have higher education interface with that learning community to produce a more integrated approach to education and skills development.
Greg Camilli, from Rutgers University, offered the final question, which addressed specific problems in information technology: What are the difficulties that computer science majors face in getting jobs after graduation? Computer science majors report that positions are not available, and so the problem may be market based, but it may be the result of the influx of workers from other fields into the information technology field. “We need to talk about this dynamic back-and-forth between jobs when we think about training and barriers,” said Camilli.