Higher Education officials and Business leaders gathered for a forum today on how to increase the number of New Hampshire STEM graduates – that’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. But while it was Community Colleges and Universities talking about the issue today, the lack of interest in STEM is a problem at every level of the American education system.
Tuesday's STEM forum featured appearances by Governor Lynch, and governor-elect Maggie Hassan. But the real meat of the event came from business owners and education reform experts who implored the higher-Ed community to do more to produce more talented science grads.
"Businesses In A World Of Hurt"
One of those is Joe Morone, the CEO of Aerospace industry parts maker, Albany International. Once its newest facility in Rochester is completed it’s expected to employ 400 and 500 people. It could have picked a lot of places to build this factory. But they chose Rochester.
Why? Because according to Morone the technology behind the plant "purely by historical happenstance grew up in Rochester. And it was a core of 3 or 4 very talented engineers working together over time."
As the project grew, those engineers attracted others, who came up with more technology which created more opportunities, which attracted more engineers, and so on.
So, Morone says, when it came time to decide where to drop their big investment, that mob of Science, Techonology, Engineering and Math talent was the key.
"We have no chance of pulling off this project, no chance, unless we successfully recruit, develop and retain a critical mass of STEM talent," says Morone,"No chance."
And Aerospace parts isn’t the only industry hurting for talent. Jeremy Hitchcock, CEO of DYN, an internet infrastructure company says his company will be looking for about 50 people with degrees in computer science next year. He says he’s read that the State of New Hampshire is only graduating about 90 such students next year.
"We’re in for a world of hurt if we cannot fill those particular roles and jobs," says Hitchcock, "And when you look at the companies that are out in California, they’re not choosing to be there because of the tax nature -- the New Hampshire advantage -- they’re there because of the talent."
Today New Hampshire Higher Education officials heard that this is the challenge confronting the state: the jobs of the future will be increasingly STEM based, but the specific skills required for those jobs will be a moving target, since these industries are changing so fast. Business leaders say schools don’t need to train students how to do a specific job, but they do need to produce more STEM graduates, who can think on their feet.
"The ideal formula is well educated, STEM graduates, who’ve been through practical experience like working with a company in an internship," says Morone. That's a better plan "than skewing the system too far to very specific, job specific training."
Study hard and get an internship? That's hardly revolutionary.
A New STEM Education Paradigm
But Jay Labov from the National Research Council – the STEM Forum’s keynote speaker – the roots of
the problem are set deep down. He says, nationally, 60 percent of students entering four year degrees as self-declared STEM majors, change degrees.
"And when you ask these students why is it that you leave," Labov says, "they say it wasn’t what I expected, it was boring."
Labov tells educators that Science education at every level has become too much about trying to make sure students know certain key facts. It's like going down a checklist: AP biology covers, gene theory, cell structure, the krebbs cycle, etc. etc.
Education reformers are going through the slow process of trying to change this at every level of the education system. They think a better way would be trying to deeply instill students with the tenants of scientific thought.
"So when we think about levels of learning this is a much higher order level of learning that we’re asking students, to do." Labov says, "Will it work? We don’t know, it’s an experiment in progress right now."
That’s the measured response of someone who has worked in education reform for a long time. Compare it to the approach of a business-man, who’s looking for more workers next year, not next decade.
"Maybe it’s introductory courses, maybe, maybe it’s advanced manufacturing, maybe it’s k through 8, but PICK a single point of leverage, and just, as a state pound away at that one point of leverage," implores Albany Internationals Joe Morone.
Whatever New Hampshire’s universities decide to do, efforts will be bearing fruit years down the road. These lean times for companies looking for STEM grads, aren’t likely to get fatter any-time soon.