Stephanie C. Hill is vice president and general manager of Lockheed Martin’s Information Systems & Global Solutions Civil business. Kim Cherry is director of STEM for D.C. Public Schools. Rex Bolinger is senior vice president and chief development officer of Project Lead the Way.
If you could pull young people away from their smartphones, tablets, video games or other devices long enough to start a conversation, you would learn quickly how important technology is in their lives. But you would also find out that, while technology is part of their everyday lives, the opportunity to pursue technology-related subjects in school is not.
The need for more qualified candidates in the technology industry could not be more dire. Jobs are unfilled, and needs are unmet. In schools, the need to meet students’ interests and offer stronger education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is frequently discussed, yet systemic solutions are few and far between — and typically difficult to implement.
To bridge the gap between industry and the classroom, there is movement on the horizon in the District to make a change in a positive, tangible and large-scale way. Six D.C. public schools already have had success with Project Lead the Way, a nonprofit organization whose curricula are being used in more than 6,500 schools nationwide. Lockheed Martin has pledged $2.38 million to provide every D.C. public school with training and course materials to implement a high-quality STEM education.
When given the opportunity and rigorous expectations, today’s young people are poised to do more amazing work than any other generation because they have been raised in a high-tech global economy.
Project Lead the Way is founded on a simple premise: Teaching STEM is more successful when students are given a chance to apply what they know, identify a problem, find unique solutions and lead their own learning in a project-based curriculum. Students learn by working on projects that relate to their everyday lives, while their teachers are supported with a robust professional development program. Students feel inspired and supported. Most important, they can see a clear path to their future, a deliberate component of the program.
The program’s K-12 model is designed to create a STEM pathway for students that engages them while they are still forming their attitudes toward STEM subjects. Research shows that students decide as early as elementary school whether they like and think they are good at math and science.
The program also is an opportunity to remind students of the benefits of STEM careers. In addition to being in high demand, STEM jobs pay well and offer avenues for greater professional achievement and economic security. People with bachelor’s degrees in STEM majors make about $500,000 more in their lifetimes than non-STEM majors, according to a 2011 report by U.S. News & World Report.
This model works. Independent research has shown that Project Lead the Way students outperform their peers in school, are better prepared for postsecondary studies and are more likely to pursue STEM careers. One study from the Indiana University School of Education found that Indiana high school graduates who participated in Project Lead the Way and went on to college were nearly three times as likely to major in STEM compared with graduates who did not participate in the program. We are eager for D.C. Public Schools students to reap the same benefits.
DCPS is one of the fastest-growing urban school districts in the country. On the 2011 and 2013 National Assessment for Educational Progress exams, DCPS students led the nation in growth in reading and math among urban districts. Students have made tremendous progress, but there is still much more work to do to help all students achieve their dreams. This is the right moment for DCPS to build upon its successes while staying innovative. This collaboration will bolster the existing curriculum while offering new experiences for students. It is our call to action for better and more deliberate efforts to advance STEM education across the country.
With that in mind, we urge others across industry to make similar commitments to support STEM initiatives and other districts to be leaders in this effort. You can simply talk about STEM, vacancies, outsourcing, competition and disappointment, or you can do something about it. Think of it as an investment in the future — theirs, yours, ours.