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The importance of investing in STEM

EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON | 8/31/2015, 7:25 a.m.
Throughout my career in Congress, I have been an outspoken proponent of science, technology, engineering and math education. As the ...
eddie bernice johnson

Throughout my career in Congress, I have been an outspoken proponent of science, technology, engineering and math education. As the current ranking member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, I continue to emphasize the need for investing in STEM education, encouraging our young people to pursue STEM studies, and achieving more diversity in STEM fields.

This is an issue I care deeply about, and one that I take very seriously. There is a very real possibility that we will lose our competitive edge, and our children will no longer have the opportunities that we had if we do not remain committed to investing in and improving STEM education in this country. The workforce of the future will need STEM skills to fill jobs, and we need a STEM-educated workforce here in the United States if we are to attract and retain the companies that are the leaders in technological innovation.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall STEM employment is projected to grow about 13 percent between 2012 and 2022. This is faster than the 11-percent rate of growth projected for all occupations over the decade. Workers in STEM jobs also have much higher salaries. In 2013, the median annual wage earned by STEM workers was nearly $76,000 – more than double the $35,080 median wage for all workers. These are good jobs for our children.

Fortunately, this is an issue that is finally getting some serious attention. Companies ranging in size from multinational enterprises on down to local businesses are realizing more and more how critical it is to the long-term success of their businesses that they have access to a highly skilled and well-prepared workforce. So, they are taking a leadership role and investing in our future. Colleges and universities are also recognizing how important this is. They are working to provide better teacher training programs, partnering with schools on programs for middle and high school students and doing important education research. We know school administrators, teachers, community leaders and parents all play a critical role in addressing this issue as well. No one person or organization can do it alone. We must all work together to leverage our respective strengths and resources to tackle this challenge.

President Obama launched the “Educate to Innovate” initiative in 2009 to move American students from the middle to the top of the pack in science and math achievement over the next decade. This initiative includes the efforts of the federal government, leading companies – many of them based in Texas, foundations, non-profits, and science and engineering societies. Just this year, the president announced more than $240 million in pledges to boost STEM studies. Those commitments have brought total financial and material support for these programs to $1 billion. Additionally, more than 100 colleges and universities have committed to training 20,000 engineers, and a coalition of CEOs has promised to expand high-quality STEM education programs to an additional 1.5 million students this year.

Here, at home, the Imagine Science Dallas Program, a summer day camp that is focused on encouraging minority and low-income students to pursue STEM studies, is making a difference. The program is spearheaded by the YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas, the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Dallas, Girls Inc. of Metropolitan Dallas and Texas A&M Agrilife Extension 4-H.

I encourage programs like Imagine Science Dallas and others that motivate children at very early ages to develop STEM skills. These students simply need encouragement and an opportunity to excel.

We need to ensure that the U.S. continues to produce the world’s best scientists, mathematicians and engineers, and to make sure that every student is prepared for the highly technical, high-paying jobs of the future.

U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson is the ranking member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology and the highest-ranking Texan on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. She represents the 30th Congressional District of Texas.