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Rep. Mike Honda Introduces Bill to Boost STEM Education 

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By Edward Swallow 

The chairman of the National Defense Industrial Association’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Workforce division, Edward Swallow, spoke to Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., regarding a bill he recently introduced, the STEM Education Innovation Act.

Honda is Silicon Valley’s representative in Congress and a member of the House Appropriations and Budget Committees, chair emeritus of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and co-chair of the Democratic Caucus’ new media working group.

ES: You recently introduced a bill called the STEM Education Innovation Act with some very interesting concepts for improving STEM education nationwide. What role do you see the defense industrial base playing in helping achieve the goals of this legislation?

MH:
Program for International Student Assessment comparisons from 2009 show American students ranking 17th out of 34 in science literacy, and 25th out of 34 in math literacy, among students from developed countries. These numbers are a crisis. These numbers are an urgent call to action.

My legislation, the STEM Education Innovation Act of 2011 (H.R. 3373), answers this call to action. A key component of the legislation calls for American classrooms to be outfitted with cutting-edge technology through the Education Innovation Project. Based on the [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] model, the project would guarantee that elementary, middle school, and high school students are using innovative and sophisticated technology in the classroom.

The defense industrial base can be a foremost project partner by developing transformational technologies for the classroom, thereby inspiring America’s students to push the boundaries of science, engineering, mathematics and technology research and study — thereby forging an entire generation of young Americans with the inspiration and skill to bolster our nation’s position as a global leader in innovation and industry.

ES: The STEM Workforce Division of NDIA has taken a position that the lack of science and math competency has created, or will soon create, a national security crisis because of the lack of innovation in our ability to produce new products and the lack of available talent for the national security work force. What are your views on that?

MH: As our nation’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics work force heads toward retirement, too few students are equipped to serve as the next generation of global innovators.

We must champion STEM education for each American student to build a cutting-edge national security work force ready and able to serve and protect the United States. If a great American education is not fully available, achievable and equitable for each student, then our national security issues will be a greater concern for future generations.  I completely agree with President Obama when he says, “The nation that out-educates us today is going to out-compete us tomorrow. To continue to cede our leadership in education is to cede our position in the world.”

By championing STEM education in American schools, we can inspire students today to become the Sally Ride or Steve Jobs of tomorrow; we can equip a new generation of American workers and innovators to compete across the globe. Education is a matter of national security — plain and simple. Protecting and expanding the American Dream through a great education will keep the United States strong, safe and exceptional in the 21st century.

ES: At the national, state and local level, there is a lot of energy around STEM, but so far it has not coalesced into significant increases in graduates with the science and math proficiency necessary to be work ready and college ready (vice test ready). Your legislation can help make a difference, but what else needs to occur to really change the educational outcomes?

MH:
To change educational outcomes on STEM, we must promote two-year colleges and vocational and technical colleges as a viable career path for many students. We need to promote vocational ready skills and classes for kids that are still in high school.

Kids today are not necessarily going to know how to use a power saw, weld a joint, or install a light switch.  These skills — in addition to computer coding, forensic analysis, and aeronautics — are necessary for our nation to have a ready-made work force of young adults. We can solve many of our nation’s economic woes by forging a skilled work force that is ready for careers in both the manufacturing and researching community.

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