STEM: Helping children imagine boundless futures
By Timothy P. Murray
Children are like sponges – they soak up so much knowledge, both inside and outside of the classroom. I see it in my two young daughters who are easily captivated by morning cartoons, and find themselves imagining the next invention they can create, just like the inventors Phineas and Ferb in episodes on the Disney Channel. If children can be inspired by science on Disney, then we should find ways to engage students in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) from the earliest days of their education.
Governor Patrick and I often speak about generational responsibility. As a society, we need to make critical investments that will position the Commonwealth for a brighter future. Empowering a child’s imagination with education that opens the door to STEM fields is one of the best things we can do to honor that responsibility.
When I was mayor of Worcester, I saw first-hand how the life sciences and biotechnology sectors helped to reposition the city’s economy for growth. I engaged directly with many in the field, and learned that access to talent and brain power was critical to their success. Now as lieutenant governor, I travel across the Commonwealth, meeting with leaders in both the public and private sector, to make sure our administration is doing everything we can to promote economic and community development. In my travels, I hear a common refrain—that Massachusetts’s highly skilled, educated and motivated workforce is our greatest asset. Then, the follow-up is usually this: there are jobs open, but companies are limited in their growth because they need more people who are well versed in STEM disciplines, whether that is a lab technician working with living cells, or a precision machinist able to work a computer-controlled milling machine.
In July, the Obama administration reported that only about a third of bachelor’s degrees earned in the United States are in STEM fields compared to approximately 53 percent of first university degrees earned in China and 63 percent in Japan. The same report also projected in the next decade, STEM occupations will increase by 17 percent, compared to 9.8 percent in other occupations.
In Massachusetts, over the past few years, we have seen similar trends, which is why the governor and I, working closely with our partners in academia and the private and non-profit sector, have brought special focus to improving and expanding STEM education, from kindergarten on up. We have created the state’s first STEM Advisory Council, which I chair, to foster this strong partnership that is now driving a statewide effort to develop the right tools and resources to support a comprehensive STEM agenda.
In September 2010, we released the state’s first STEM plan, titled “A Foundation for the Future: Massachusetts’ Plan for Excellence in STEM Education.” This plan goes further than we have ever gone before, setting targeted goals and benchmarks as we work with K-16 programs to promote STEM education, jobs, and workforce development.
This August, almost a year after launching the STEM plan, the advisory council endorsed six statewide programs to engage students, K-16, in ambitious programs that will support the state’s long-term goals to improve STEM education and complement our investments in jobs and workforce development. MassBioEd Foundation’s BioTeach program, which has done tremendous work over the years providing professional development opportunities for over 500 educators in 177 Massachusetts high schools, is among the six programs endorsed by the council. It’s precisely the kind of public-private partnership that we hope to increase across many STEM fields.
Through the leadership of the STEM Advisory Council, and support from partners across the Commonwealth, we are creating a strong platform for STEM education that will help students access STEM learning experiences that will open their imaginations to the excitement of scientific discovery and technology development. In this way, we are helping our children imagine a boundless future as we also support the growth industries of our economy.
Timothy P. Murray serves as Lieutenant Governor of the Commonwealth.