Why is the state of education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) critical to national defense? It is because throughout the development and growth of the United States, technology leadership has both propelled the economy forward and enabled us to create and deploy world-class defense systems to protect the men and women in uniform as well as the nation’s allies and friends around the world.
To maintain technology leadership, it is imperative to secure an adequate pipeline of future STEM talent.
Herein lies the challenge: as the Baby Boom generation prepares over the next two decades to pass the torch, there are questions as to whether there will be sufficient STEM talent to carry the torch forward.
Data suggest that the United States will not be graduating enough college students with STEM degrees to keep ahead of other countries, and that too few will become engineers. Fourth- and eighth-grade test data indicate that part of the problem is that too few U.S. students are performing at proficient or advanced levels in math. The nation has a stake in fully understanding the STEM challenge and in formulating responses to effectively address it.
Raytheon understands how to analyze complex systems in a comprehensive manner. These analysis techniques can be applied to the STEM education problem. Raytheon’s Chairman and CEO Bill Swanson, who is also chairman of the Business-Higher Education Forum, challenged employees to use their engineering expertise to simulate and model possible solutions to the nation’s STEM dilemma. The model determines the impact of modifying different aspects of STEM education without reaching out to educational systems and students and then waiting years to determine the results.
After thorough analyses by engineers participating in Raytheon’s Systems Engineering Technical Development Program and consulting with educational professionals, the company was able to develop a U.S. STEM Education Model that can test various scenarios. The company has since demonstrated and donated the model to the Business-Higher Education Forum, which has worked with partners to enhance it and encourage its use by educators and policymakers.
In addition to the modeling effort, data also indicated the need to draw out one specific level in the STEM system: engagement of 11- to 14-year-old students in math and science.
Research shows that students of this age group begin to lose interest in STEM, and it is a critical time to focus resources. In response, in 2005 Raytheon established MathMovesU, a program to reach out to more than one million students, teachers and educators in all 50 states and 179 countries to help make math and science more exciting to middle school students.
Initiatives include a MathMovesU’s interactive website, scholarships, sponsorships and events that speak to the students on their own terms, to connect the dots between studying math and science in school now, to seeing how they apply to real-life experiences, and subsequently having exciting careers later. The overriding goal is truly engaging students in math and science — making the subjects fun.
A year ago, Raytheon unveiled the Sum of all Thrills experience at Epcot at the Walt Disney World Resort. Guests of all ages, and particularly young guests, can custom-design their own virtual thrill ride and then experience it in a robotic simulator. Sum of all Thrills was created to help excite students about math and inspire them to pursue math-related activities and careers.
Raytheon supports the MATHCOUNTS foundation — a nonprofit organization that promotes math excellence through competition open to U.S. middle school students. It serves as the title sponsor of the Raytheon MATHCOUNTS National Competition through 2014.
Currently, more than 12,000 Raytheon employees volunteer annually for MathMovesU related programs: mentoring and tutoring, science fairs and math team coaching and school visits. Raytheon awards more than $2 million annually in scholarships and grants, nationwide, to deserving students, teachers and schools at all levels to support, encourage and reward continued achievement in math and science.
Raytheon provides a non-restrictive college scholarship to FIRST Robotics Participants. We sponsored 40 FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Teams and nearly 700 students in 2009. For more than 11 years, Raytheon engineers have mentored teams of high school students for FIRST Robotics.Mark Russell is Raytheon vice president of engineering, technology and mission assurance.