Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Calling for Innovators Our Students Must Learn to Create New Technologies, Not Just Enjoy Them

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Calling for Innovators Our Students Must Learn to Create New Technologies, Not Just Enjoy Them

Article excerpt

Innovation has always been the foundation of successful enterprises. Innovations such as the steam engine, the transistor, the Internet and the iPad built businesses, created industries and powered economic growth.

The same can be said for individuals. Those who create the next great innovations -- and not just consume them -- will be the biggest winners in tomorrow's economy.

That is why it is increasingly important for students to study science, technology, engineering and math. "STEM" education will be spotlighted this week as the National Society of Black Engineers begins its annual gathering tomorrow at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh.

History has shown that those who have strong engineering and science skills will be the innovators of tomorrow, and the United States needs creative people with these backgrounds to grow our economy and generate new jobs. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, only 5 percent of U.S. workers are employed in fields related to science and engineering, but they are responsible for more than 50 percent of sustained economic expansion.

You can see how that dynamic has played out here in Pittsburgh, where the traditional steel industry has given way to a more dynamic economy built on science-driven fields such as health care, information technology and robotics. Pittsburgh is now home to some 1,600 technology companies.

Yet there are alarming trends that indicate our next generation of American workers runs the risk of becoming technology consumers, not creators. According to the National Science Foundation, the percentage of U.S. students studying math, science and engineering has decreased from 21 percent in the 1980s to about 16 percent today. And overall math and science scores of 15-year-old U.S. students continue to lag behind students of many other countries, based on the most recent tests from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

America's shifting demographics make it especially important that we encourage minority students to pursue science and engineering education.

Today, 43 percent of school-age children are of African- American, Latino or Native-American descent. Yet of all the engineering bachelor's degrees in 2010, less than 15 percent were awarded to under-represented minorities, according to the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering. If the United States is to remain competitive in a global economy, we need to reconcile these opposing trends.

STEM education is not only an issue of national competitiveness, it also provides disproportionate opportunity for individuals. A report from Georgetown University shows that 65 percent of those with bachelor's degrees in STEM occupations earn more than those with master's degrees in other occupations. …

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