When William H. Swanson took over as chief executive of defense contractor Raytheon in 2003, he saw trouble ahead.
Multiple reports showed the demand for cybersecurity and other technology jobs was set to grow far faster than the pool of people qualified to do that work.
So Swanson and his staff decided to see if the company could do something to boost the pipeline of candidates.
In 2005, Raytheon’s philanthropic arm created MathMovesU, a program designed to draw students into the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Each year, the company — which is based in Waltham, Mass., but has large operations in Dulles — contributes at least $2 million to the cause. Part goes to teachers for professional development, the rest toward college scholarships for middle school students. Those scholarship funds are withheld until the students enter their first year of college. In between that time, Raytheon operates a host of creative programming to help students build their STEM skills.
Some of those programs include hands-on exhibits such as “MathAlive!,” where kids learn about the math behind music, fashion, robotics and video games. There’s also Raytheon’s “Sum of all Thrills” exhibit at Walt Disney World, where kids design their own roller coaster and then ride it through a simulator.
The company also provides scholarships to math and science summer camps, and sponsors high school competitions in aerospace design, cyber defense and robotic design.
All told, Raytheon’s financial commitment has added up to about $100 million since 2005.
The money is not the only contribution. Raytheon employees also volunteer at schools, putting in some 200,000 hours last year.
The effort is beginning to show results.
Raytheon gave its first set of college scholarships in 2005 to a group of kids entering middle school. Today, most of that class of students is in its sophomore year of college.
Early indications suggest “the vast majority of MathMovesU scholarship recipients who reach college age declare a major that aligns with a STEM degree,” said Pam Erickson, Raytheon’s vice president of corporate affairs.
It will take a few more years to determine whether students actually graduate and enter professions such as cybersecurity. And that’s just the students who showed interest from the start.
The National Cyber Security Alliance recently surveyed millennials about their attitudes toward a cybersecurity career. Even with the demand for jobs growing, only 24 percent expressed interest in the field. The profession ranked 12th out of 14 fields favored by respondents, topping only elected officials and Wall Street analysts. Forty percent, the largest group, said they want to be an entertainer. The survey, commissioned by Raytheon, suggested part of the problem was that people seemed to know little about the field. Eighty-two percent said no high school teacher or guidance counselor ever mentioned the idea of a career in cybersecurity.
“It was very eye-opening and makes us realize we have more work to do,” said Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance.
Raytheon is hardly the only company looking to steer students into STEM fields.
Siemens, whose U.S. headquarters is based in the District, holds a national competition for high school students to showcase their STEM skills. Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin operates a program called Engineers in the Classroom, which sends its engineers and technologists to local schools to serve as career mentors and school advisers. It also sponsors the annual USA Science and Engineering Festival, which draws thousands of youths to the National Mall for a circus of science fair projects and booths. McLean-based Science Applications International Corp.’s K-12 STEM program and Chicago-based Boeing’s education outreach also deploy employees to engage elementary, middle and high schools in STEM projects.
Kaiser said there are a number of ways for businesses to help solve the STEM education issue.
“This is a large problem and requires a lot of people to participate,” Kaiser said. “I wouldn’t expect federal government, academic institutions or a business to solve the problem on their own.”