An Economic Imperative


When I was much younger, I hung out with people who used chemicals. We had scales to measure grams, tubs to mix formulas, and walk-in gas ovens to crystallize the results — we were known as “the potters.”

Lidded Jar

Ceramic artists use technology to produce their wares

Potters use STEM concepts to complete their work like my lidded jar here. We were all students in ceramics at Wichita State University in Kansas. We used science, technology, engineering and math to knead, throw, bisque-fire, measure, glaze, and high-fire our pots. We were a creative force who needed to know about chemicals. We had to know chemical reactions to make the color, the shine, and the thickness of the glaze once fired. If we mixed cobalt carbonate, talc, zinc oxide, and silica; we had to know before the kiln firing, that the glaze would adhere versus melt into a pile of glass at the base of our teapot.


Today I focus more on my math and social science skills in business development than my chemistry skills. However, science and technology surround me more than ever before as now I work in a Federal government research laboratory. My position introduced me to the plight of our country and our need for scientists and engineers to work in Federal research labs.

I based this entry on a proposal I co-authored assessing the need for U.S. citizens in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers. I want to thank Mary Katchur with Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum and Dr. Stacie Williams with the Air Force Maui Optical & Supercomputing Site for their contributions and working this issue with me.

Science + Technology + Engineering + Math = STEM Education

“STEM education is an economic imperative.
Experts say that technological innovation accounted for almost half of U.S. economic growth over the past 50 years, and almost all the 30 fastest-growing occupations in the next decade will need at least some background in STEM.”
Change the Equation

As America grows more and more dependent on technology, our nation slowly slips in research and development (R&D) leadership.

Science Degrees by Country (graph from ASTRA)

According to The Alliance for Science & Technology Research in America (ASTRA), we are 9th in the world for awarding science degrees and now fall behind Western European nations on scientific and technical publications.

Ten years ago our definition of “instant communication” was archaic compared to our reality today. I remember when Chamber of Commerce organizations provided their members with networking opportunities. Now “networking” is defined by LinkedIn (2003), Facebook (2004,) and Twitter (2006).

It was government-funded research in 1962 and the resulting Internet that made our instant communications possible today. The Computer History Museum website explains the meteor rise of the Internet. I used to think my grandparents’ generation witnessed the greatest changes in quality of life due to technologies – now I am not so sure.

The New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science’s permanent exhibit of “STARTUP” showcases “the microcomputer – the little machine that revolutionized the way we live, work and play.” I highly recommend going if you are ever in Albuquerque. I owned the same models of the Osborne 1 and the first McIntosh in this exhibit.  I still am awed that a compact disc of today has more memory than both of my first computers combined — including the three external hard drives attached to my Mac! Computers changed my world as I am sure they changed your world. Today I carry a computer everywhere I go in my android smart phone!

I am disheartened that contrast to the rise in our use of technology, our education numbers are lagging. In the 2006 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) comparison, American students ranked 21st out of 30 in science literacy among students from developed countries and 25th out of 30 in math literacy. The OECD report for the United States explains that the advantage the U.S. held in the past was largely the result of the first-mover advantage. Since World War II, we have been on the leading edge of discoveries enabling us to enter a market. Between study years 1995 and 2005, our college graduation rates declined, dropping us from 2nd to 14th place within the OECD countries.

On January 11, 2011, ASTRA Board of Directors member and trustee of Wentworth Institute of Technology, Wayne Johnson, addressed the Wentworth Institute of Technology’s Colloquium, Educating our Students for the Future. In his presentation, he noted that the World Bank has identified “four pillars for development including education, information infrastructure, incentives, and systems of innovation.”

Mr. Johnson makes clear that “the first three are irrelevant if we fail at the first. Education is the foundation that makes infrastructure, incentives, and innovation meaningful.”

We are at a critical juncture.

Our youth spend about 21 percent of annual awake time learning in school during the K through 12 years. Integrating STEM concepts into informal learning settings, like times spent with family and friends, is paramount for our Nation in future years.

In the volume, Learning Science in Informal Environments, the National Research Council describes free-choice learning in terms of “islands of expertise” which grow and integrate into other learning over time. In other words; including family members and mentors into the learning process provides long-term support to our youth.

“…young children learn science by building “islands of expertise,” or topics in which they become interested and knowledgeable about over a period of weeks, months, or years. These topics become integrated into family activities, such as field trips, reading books, and dinnertime conversations.”
Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits

The Federal Equation

The Federal Government is the Nation’s single largest employer. In 2009, the Federal Government employed over 2.7 million U.S. citizens worldwide in addition to the 1.6 million uniformed military personnel. I am one of the 2.7 million.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 33% of these Federal jobs are professional and related occupations. Computer specialists represent 3.8 percent of the jobs; engineers 4.6, biological scientists 1.3, and physical scientists at 1.6 percent. Economists expect this segment of the government workforce to grow by 9.7 percent in the next 8 years. Uniformed military positions require highly technical skills already.

The Federal government needs technically savvy candidates to meet their workforce needs in the 21st century.

Engineering, science, and technical personnel “require specific knowledge to operate technical equipment, solve complex problems, or provide and interpret information” according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition.

Federal laboratories seek this ability in a new workforce to replace their “baby boomer” generation of scientists and engineers (S&E). I am a member of the boomer generation. In 2011, 78 million of us begin to turn 65 years old.

Federal laboratory positions need U.S. citizenship; all hold Secret clearances with many working on Top Secret projects. Support functions from administrative to finance also require Secret clearances. Industry personnel working on Federal laboratory contracts require U.S. citizenship also.


Our Nation depends on our people to own the technical skills needed for the workforce of today. STEM education will help us meet those needs.

You can help by supporting our Nation’s formal science classes at schools and informal science education programs in organizations like museums, libraries, and youth clubs. You can also volunteer where needed — chaperon on field trips. Be active and introduce family and friends to science. Search the internet for ideas. Let STEM organizations and others know about our movement to be STEM Strong. Thank you.

Post Script

I close on this animated advertisement from a Russian defense industry manufacturer. This video startled me into outwardly supporting STEM education in the spring of 2010. Ron Synovitz describes it best in his April 29, 2010 Radio Free Europe website feature: Russian Firm Denies ‘Club-K’ Missiles Could Be Used By Terrorists.

Check it out, it’s a bit unnerving. The following newscast is a quick watch of the Club-K System. The full promotional version lasts over 6-minutes; the link is below.

In the full version, Blue represents the United States and our allies.

Something to think about…

This entry was posted in Why STEM?. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to An Economic Imperative

  1. sarbajit manna says:

    i want to know that ceramic technology is used by mathematics

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s