Navy to Invest $100 Million In STEM Education

By Fumiko Hedlund
Over the next five years, the Navy will increase its investment in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education programs from $54 million to $100 million, Secretary of the Navy Raymond Mabus recently announced.

“We are going to double it in a targeted and innovative way so that we reach the maximum number of people and have the maximum impact,” he said at the Naval STEM Forum in Alexandria, Va.

Past initiatives sought to reach many age groups with various educational strategies, but teachers represented at the forum asked officials for more coordination between programs.

Post-secondary degrees in STEM doubled between 1960 and 2000, but have since stagnated, the Congressional Research Service reported. Non-STEM careers are garnering higher salaries, which results in potential science and engineering majors choosing less difficult tracks.

The Navy’s interest in STEM programs is rooted in the shrinking pool of military and civilian experts in these fields. More than half of the Defense Department’s acquisition work force is preparing for retirement, said Rear Adm. Nevin Carr, chief of naval research. The service is working to ensure that Naval Sea Systems Command’s cadre of 19,000 scientists and engineers remains fully staffed and continues to make groundbreaking discoveries, he added.

Mabus said recruiting students into the Navy’s science and technology enterprise is not the initiative’s ultimate goal.

“This is of great interest to the Navy and Marine Corps, but it is of crucial interest to the United States,” Mabus said. “It is more clear now than it has ever been that our nation’s security depends on our smarts as well as our strength.”

Adm. Gary Roughead, former chief of naval operations, said more than 51 percent of U.S. patents last year were awarded to foreign companies. However, the U.S. Navy’s patent portfolio is ranked as one of the strongest among government organizations. “We will continue to rely on work like that to maintain our advantage in a demanding future security environment,” he added.

Current naval research projects include hearing restoration, technology that can transmit a subject’s thoughts without speech, and an autonomous unmanned submarine that uses a mixture of seawater and organic material from the sea floor to power itself. Development priorities for the future include sustainable energy, autonomous vehicles, directed energy and information dominance, Carr said.

Carr stressed that the Navy alone cannot solve the nation’s STEM problems. Military, government and academia must integrate their efforts in order to make the most out of limited resources. They must emphasize the importance of the “cross-pollination of ideas.”
Mabus said: “I absolutely refuse to believe that this country that has been a hotbed for innovation can be average.”

Part of the investment will include $8 million in grants that will be awarded to six programs. Applicants can range from K-12 programs to the Naval Post Graduate School.

In addition to sponsoring independent STEM projects, the Navy has created its own programs.
At the forum, students from John Hopkins University, California Polytechnic State University, and the Webb Institute highlighted the value of Naval STEM programs. The Naval Research Enterprise Internship Program, sponsored by the Office of Naval Research, convinced some students that engineering careers were worth pursuing.

At their internships, students were able to help design water filtering systems for disaster sites, space system engineering projects and renewable energy for military equipment.

Fumiko Hedlund, an intern at National Defense Magazine, is a cadet at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Topics: Research and Development

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