Friends, colleagues and clients think of me in terms of corporate recruitment and relocation, my career of choice for more than 25 years. But economic development wasn’t my original field of work—it was education, and more specifically, science and technology education.
I didn’t intend to teach as a career. It was only a means to an end. I’m the product of a generation where women who desired to advance in the business world were mentored by male executives. And to move forward professionally, you had to have a graduate degree. So I taught to help pay for a science Ph.D. from Southern Methodist University.
Although I grew up watching NASA launches, the universal educational message was that boys went into disciplines requiring science and math, not girls. Always up for a challenge, I set out to advocate for science learning for both genders and all ages. My vehicle to do this was to work with a team of business leaders to develop The Science Place in Dallas, now known as the Perot Museum of Nature & Science—whose new facility is currently under construction in downtown Dallas.
During my term as the founding director of this science and technology museum, I became increasingly aware of our country’s national deficiencies in science and math education. Even after transitioning into economic development, I continued to volunteer at schools and colleges to support these initiatives—and I still do.
Perhaps it was the recent publicity of Atlantis’ final shuttle flight and reflecting on 30 years of amazing space exploration that made me extra attentive to an email I received last week from the Texas Workforce Commission addressed to the “Changemakers Community.” As part of my work in site location consulting, the assessment of available labor is as critical as the incentives to support it.
The email opened with, “Solving the world’s most pressing challenges will require innovations in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (also called STEM). From climate change to fiscal meltdowns, renewable energy to eradicating diseases, from food security to global and local health, the STEM disciplines are at the very center of our quest to improve our lives and the condition of our world.”
It went on to remind me that the United States ranks No. 23 globally in science and No. 31 in math. Perhaps the point that hit home the most, was … “yet our communities are filled with many of the world’s most talented professionals in these fields. They work in hospitals, universities, and museums; biotech, engineering, and architecture firms; graphic-design and urban-planning studios; hedge funds, banks, and computer-software, gaming, and pharmaceutical companies. They just rarely directly impact our public schools.”
Not touched upon in this email was how many of these workers are recruited from outside the U.S. or came here for a higher education and stayed. They are not the product of our public education. Through my site search work, these voids in skill sets repeatedly rise to the surface, especially in the various fields of engineering.
The intent of the TWC email was to reach out to companies to identify “models that bring STEM expertise into public schools, thereby using resources from the private and not-for-profit sectors in new ways to further student learning.”
I want to do what I can to help TWC and others raise attention to the need to support science and math education through increased funding and innovative learning opportunities. Do you have an existing partnership that brings STEM talent to students and teachers in schools during the school day you can share with others? Can your own skills and experience help share STEM content while motivating students to follow in your footsteps?
TWC will reward you for your efforts. The commission has teamed up with some nationally recognized foundations to award more than $150,000 in cash and in-kind prizes. Click here to learn more.
There’s a much bigger prize at stake here, and that’s the ‘growing’ of our own STEM-educated workforce to increase our global competitiveness and reduce our dependence on others. I challenge each of you to work with your companies and area educators to identify a way for you to contribute. If you and your company are already involved in an initiative, I sincerely thank you and hope you’ll take this opportunity to share it to motivate others.
Linda Burns is a national site consultant based out of Dallas. She specializes in location incentives and economic development consulting. Contact her at email@example.com.