Stemming the tide of STEM apathy
The Base Realignment And Closure (BRAC) of 2005 to Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG) is nearing its full implementation date in September. Just under 60 new companies have joined the APG community in and around Harford County in support of BRAC, while others like SAIC and AVON Protection have expanded their footprint. Millions of square feet of office space have risen in newly constructed business parks around the county. Additionally, nearly $1 billion dollars of construction created three million square feet of office, research and lab space just on Post. However, with Gary Martin, executive deputy to the commanding general, U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, reporting that there are currently 1,000 vacancies on Post and 45 percent of the APG workforce is eligible for retirement within five years, one wonders: “It’s been built, but who will come?”
|Only about a third of bachelor’s degrees earned in the United States are in a STEM field vs. approximately 53 percent in China and 63 percent in Japan.More than half of the science and engineering graduate students in U.S. universities are from outside the United States.Source: National Science Board. (2010). Science and Engineering Indicators: 2010. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation.|
The dearth of applicants for jobs in the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) has experts scrambling for ways to fill the pipeline and increase interest in related careers. Representatives from APG, the Harford and Cecil County Public School Systems, science organizations and businesses have joined forces to improve the situation along the I-95 corridor with hopes that graduates in the very near future will be able to work in their own backyard. Here’s a look at what some of the agencies and businesses are doing.
Harford Community College
A Harford County fixture for over 54 years, Harford Community College (HCC) contributes to building the STEM foundation with school day and summer programs for students, development and training opportunities for teachers, and its own dedicated academic division to the STEM subjects. Additionally, through its workforce development efforts, it offers advanced training programs for private, public and government organizations to maintain the education levels of their current workforce.
As a teaching institution, HCC focuses on making learning fun and interesting with innovative programs. This summer, the college is among just 20 other after school and summer programs in the country piloting two new Engineering Adventures (EA) camps designed by the Engineering is Elementary (EiE) team from Boston’s Museum of Science. Students in grades 1 through 5 will meet real engineers, solve a real-world engineering problem and take home-related trade books to extend their interest – and learning – at home.
“We want children in Harford County to discover firsthand how exciting engineering can be, particularly in view of the multitude of opportunities they will have for engineering careers right in this community,” explains Marlene Lieb, associate vice president of continuing education and training for HCC.
Partnering with Harford County Public Schools and local businesses, HCC hosts selected 8th graders from around the county at its annual “TNT – Technology Needs Teens” event each spring. The event showcases presentations and demonstrations in exothermicity, robotics and physics with business support from defense contractors like SAIC, Smiths Detection and Raytheon.
HCC offers a complete selection of STEM-related certificates and associate degree programs in biology, environmental technology, physics, horticulture and chemistry to name a few. First offered in the summer of 2009 and returning each year due to its success is HCC’s STEM Scholars Step Up Program. Open to students in a declared STEM major the summer before they start school, the goal of the program is to ensure student success with better preparation in research skills, laboratory skills and problem solving. “The students who enroll in this program enjoy working with other STEM majors in a relaxed and fun setting and learning more about STEM careers,” says Deborah Wrobel, dean of STEM Division at HCC. “The aspect of the program they like most each year is
meeting scientists and engineers from the community. All of the STEM Scholars emerge with stronger math and problem solving skills. We look forward to working with them each summer.”
Area teachers in the STEM disciplines can participate in HCC’s STEM Teaching Academy, a collaboration among HCC, APG’s science and engineering labs, and the Senior Science Society. Tuition free for all K-12 educators, the intensive weeklong workshop also counts toward the teacher’s continuing education requirement. Wrobel adds, “This summer we are offering three tracks: Engineering, Biology/Chemistry, and Earth/Environmental Science. The K-12 educators will have an
opportunity to work with local scientists and engineers as well as college faculty. We created the STEM Teaching Academy in response to the strong demand for local, meaningful STEM professional development opportunities.”
In addition to its offerings on campus, HCC saw an opportunity with BRAC to create something that would address the unique skill set requirements of today’s military and the defense contractors that serve them. Just inside the gate on Aberdeen Proving Ground, HCC opened the Performance Training Center, a state-of-art computer lab and classroom offering information technology certification programs as well as soft skill courses in project management, leadership and team building. This convenient location and the customization offered by HCC allows personnel already here and in jobs to get the training they need to keep up with advances in their fields and remain competitive.
For more information on all the programs offered through Harford Community College visit Harford.edu.
Northeastern Maryland Technology Council
The Northeastern Maryland Technology Council (NMTC) is a local technology association that connects members to decision makers in industry, government, technology and academics across Pennsylvania, Delaware, Northeastern Maryland and Greater Baltimore. One of NMTC’s four focus areas is “championing STEM education in grades K-12.” NMTC, led by Executive Director John Casner, is co-sponsoring the STEM Summit, a series of facilitated meetings with representation from the member groups. APG, represented by Gary Martin from RDECOM, is the other co-sponsor. Together, with over 100 confirmed participants, they are discussing strategies, inventorying resources and encouraging collaboration for STEM activities in the region.
Initial meetings have been successful in identifying gaps and opportunities that have enabled the group to form four subgroups that will develop a plan for its particular area of emphasis – students, teachers, STEM content and strategic communications. Three meetings have convened so far.
Visit the NMTC website NMTC.org for information on upcoming events.
Communications-Electronics Research, Development & Engineering Center (CERDEC)
Relocating to APG from Fort Monmouth as part of BRAC, CERDEC serves as the Army’s information technology and integrated systems research, development and engineering center. Although new to the area, their outreach office immediately focused on promoting STEM activities. This summer, as they did last year, CERDEC will present its Math and Science Summer Camp designed to enhance the interest in science, math, engineering and technology for students in grades 5 through 10. CERDEC personnel volunteer as presenters and judges at the Maryland Junior Science and Humanities Symposium, part of the Innovative STEM Conference held at Morgan State University each year. They also act as “cyber guides” and judges on the CERDEC/RDECOM sponsored eCYBERMISSION program, a free, web-based science, technology, engineering and math competition for students in grades 6 through 9.
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/CERDEC.
Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC)
Located in the Edgewood area of APG, The U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC) is the country’s premier facility for research and development of non-medical chemical and biological defense. It routinely hires scientists with specialties in biology, chemistry, biochemistry, physics and microbiology, and engineers with concentrations in electrical, electronic, mechanical, computer, industrial and chemical studies. Given the importance of a highly trained and skilled scientific workforce to maintain their defense and counter-defense goals, ECBC’s outreach program goes beyond public relations and community goodwill. So serious is their commitment to support and shape a strong STEM workforce that they have signed partnership agreements with both Harford and Cecil County Public Schools outlining expectations. Dedicated ECBC employees who are passionate about their mission and who volunteer their time and expertise execute the Center’s outreach programs to excite students and teachers throughout the region.
“Thanks to the Center’s talented scientists and engineers who continuously strive to make a difference in the community, we have been able to successfully address local STEM needs,” says Mary Doak, the Center’s community and educational outreach program manager. “Furthermore, we have very close relationships with educators and administrators in our community and have made it a priority to listen to their voices.”
Earlier this year, ECBC scientists provided hands on activities and exhibits at STEM Night held at Youth Benefit Elementary School in Harford County. Along with fellow scientists from U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL), they built mini robots, conducted experiments and provided a peek into the world of science for over 600 students and parents in attendance. Youth Benefit plans to hold the event annually and hopes it serves as a model to other area schools.
In Cecil County, ECBC offered physics, biology and chemistry high school teachers the opportunity to participate in a workshop exploring the integration of smart sensor technology into the classroom. The goal was to help the teachers learn to take traditional science lessons and turn them into problem solving exercises that will captivate and motivate the students. Three ECBC engineers worked with 10 teachers over the three-day workshop.
In addition to mentoring students and judging science projects at Aberdeen High School’s Science and Math Academy and Joppatowne High School’s Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Program, ECBC representatives participate in NMTC’s STEM Summit, lead teacher tours and visits at the base labs, and speak to classrooms and assemblies on request. ECBC recently won the prestigious Governor’s Service Award for their volunteer service to the community last year. In 2010, ECBC participated in nearly 80 educational outreach events engaging 6,000 students and 650 teachers from the area. Doak adds, “Collectively, we aim to inspire, attract and develop a strong future STEM workforce to deliver innovative solutions for the nation’s current and future challenges.”
Visit ecbc.army.mil/outreach/index.html for more information about ECBC’s outreach efforts statewide.
Maj. Gen. Nick Justice, APG senior commander, along with other APG representatives, are doing their part to improve this critical situation. Justice met with the Maryland Higher Education Commission, Governor’s Subcommittee on BRAC, and St. John Properties in March to discuss how the state can support the educational requirements that will sustain the APG’s workforce. Justice also met with Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s office in April and relayed the same concerns. Justice and other high-ranking personnel from APG are part of the STEM Summit as a co-sponsor, as well as supporting the outreach efforts within their own military organizations like CERDEC and ECBC. To sustain higher education in STEM, APG has signed agreements with several universities and schools including the University of Delaware and Morgan State University for research activities.
Visit army.mil and search “APG STEM” for more stories about supported STEM initiatives.
Raytheon, SAIC, Survice Engineering and Sabre Systems are just a few of the defense contractors who understand the need to engage and educate the new workforce through STEM programs. Whether a summer camp, a plant tour, teacher
development workshop, competition or grant, these companies and others like them are pouring a lot of energy, time and money into ensuring that the talent and skill will be there when it’s needed.
Raytheon Company (raytheon.com) is a principal sponsor of the annual and prestigious MATHCOUNTS competition, America’s only nationwide enrichment, club and competition program that motivates and rewards middle school students for math achievement. More than 100,000 students in more than 6,000 schools register annually to compete.
Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC, saic.com) partnered with Harford County Public Library to fund the “Science is Fun!” LEAP kits (Learn, Explore and Play) and programs at their Edgewood Branch. With SAIC’s contribution, HCPL was able to expand the program from 30 to 150 children and adults each month. SAIC also chairs, co-chairs, sponsors and volunteers with vital associations and committees throughout the state including the Army Alliance and the Northeastern Tech Council of Maryland.
Sabre Systems (sabresystems.com) added STEM initiatives to its strategic plan using a three-pronged approach of supporting K-12 programs locally, actively participating in discussions with federal, state and local agencies and by continually training and developing its current workforce in the changing technology.
SURVICE Engineering (survice.com) donated $25,000 in scholarship funds in support of Harford Community College’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) students as well as supporting their new STEM facility.
The STEM dilemma and the race to solve it reaches far beyond this region. The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology released a report in September 2010 outlining the issues and potential remedies regarding the STEM crisis. President Obama publicly supported the results and is pushing for its implementation. The report calls for significant federal involvement in establishing a cohesive approach to the STEM issue to include a new agency, billions of dollars in federal funding, and a special focus on underrepresented groups like girls, African-Americans and Hispanics.
Will this be enough to maintain the critical missions of homeland security, military defense, medical advancements, and technological innovation going forward? Time will tell. I95