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Photo of Dr. France A. Córdova

Photo by NSF/
Stephen Voss

Dr. France A. Córdova
National Science Foundation


At the
NAE-Battelle STEM Symposium
Ohio State University
Columbus, Ohio

May 3, 2016

If you're interested in reproducing any of the slides, please contact the Office of Legislative and Public Affairs: (703) 292-8070.

[Slide #1: Reworking STEM for the 21st Century]

Thank you, President [Dan] Mote, for that warm introduction -- and also for taking the lead for the National Academy of Engineering in organizing this important symposium.

It's difficult to over-emphasize the importance that STEM education will play in our technologically dependent economy in this new century. It is generally recognized that STEM fields are the primary drivers of American competitiveness in an increasingly global economy. Research shows that more than half of U.S. economic growth over the last 50 years has resulted from improved productivity brought about by STEM-led innovations.

Gatherings such as this one are critical to help us get the most out of STEM -- both for our work force and for our economy. So, Dan, thank you again for organizing today's event. I'd also like to thank Battelle for their support of this symposium and Ohio State for hosting it.

[Slide #2: Federal funding key to developing STEM workforce]

First, a brief history lesson. During NSF's early years -- characterized by ideas set forth by visionary Vannevar Bush -- our focus was on scientists and engineers engaged in R&D in government, academic, or industry laboratories.

In the report Science -- the Endless Frontier, he wrote, "The most important ways in which the Government can promote industrial research are to increase the flow of new scientific knowledge through support of basic research, and to aid in the development of scientific talent."

"Ability, and not the circumstance of family fortune, [should] determine who receives higher education in science [and assure the Nation] of constantly improving quality at every level of scientific activity. Plans should be designed to attract into science youthful talent appropriate to the needs of science."

[Slide #3: NSB launched new STEM approach]

One year ago, the National Science Board released a seminal report on the state of the U.S. STEM workforce, which has been a long-standing concern both for the Board and NSF. The report -- titled Revisiting the STEM Workforce -- raised again the alarm that we weren't attracting enough domestic talent into S&E fields and it concluded that the ability of the U.S. to compete globally could suffer.

The report is built around a few major insights, and I'd like to share some of them with you to help us better understand what we mean when we say the "STEM workforce."

First: The STEM workforce is extensive. It includes a wide range of individuals: scientists and engineers with advanced degrees performing R&D, workers in non-R&D jobs who use STEM knowledge, workers in non-STEM jobs who use STEM expertise to perform occupational tasks successfully.

In practice, there is no consensus on how the "STEM workforce" is defined. Some definitions omit workers with less than a bachelor's degree, or don't include social scientists. Most definitions rely on degree or occupational data, which may not capture workers without a STEM degree BUT who use significant levels of STEM expertise in the workplace. Capturing all of these workers is especially important in understanding more broadly how STEM skills are used in the workplace and how these workers contribute to our national competitiveness.

Many of the most pressing and often contentious questions about the STEM workforce -- however defined -- cannot be answered by examining the STEM workforce in its entirety. What we call the STEM workforce is, in fact, a heterogeneous mix of "sub-workforces." These sub-workforces can be understood by: Education level, occupation, career stage, even geography.

These sub-workforces present strikingly different stories, meaning the market for the various STEM sub-workforces can vary dramatically, as can the career experiences. For example, our Nation requires more sub-baccalaureate health-technology workers relative to quantum physicists. Health-technology workers are needed in almost every town and city in the country. By contrast, not every town requires quantum physicists.

Another major insight in the report is that individuals in the U.S. with STEM skills do not necessarily follow a linear pipeline: straight from receipt of a STEM degree to a job in that same STEM field. In fact, STEM skills enable pathways to many careers, STEM and non-STEM alike.

[Slide #4: Pathways - Engineering]

Let me illustrate this point for engineering and social science degree holders using screenshots from an interactive, on-line tool created by the Census Bureau. I know this is a complex slide to interpret in the short time we have today, but it is available in the full NSB report on their website. The tool lets users explore the relationship between college majors and occupations.

The colored segments on the left show the proportion of people graduating in each college major and, on the right, individuals employed in each occupation group. The thickness of the lines between majors and occupations indicate the share of people in a major who work in a particular occupation.

STEM is in color, non-STEM is shown in gray. Many engineering degree holders find engineering jobs, but many others are employed in the computer sciences and outside of STEM altogether.

[Slide #5: Pathways -- Social Sciences]

By contrast, the majority of social science degree holders follow career pathways into non-STEM jobs, shown here in gray. These occupations include managers, legal and education professionals, and jobs in sales or finance.

The idea of a pipeline presumes there is only one path to a STEM career. In practice, the association between degree and occupation is fairly loose; individuals with STEM skills have the flexibility to embark on numerous career paths. As you might be aware, I am "Exhibit A" in that regard. My bachelor's degree was in English, but after graduation I switched my career focus and eventually earned my Ph.D. in Astrophysics. Not captured in these illustrations is that these patterns will be different for different degree levels, and they evolve over the course of one's career.

It is good for businesses that can bring in STEM talent and use it in optimal ways. And it is good for our nation. Innovation happens in lots of settings and isn't the exclusive province of companies associated with R&D.

I like to think of STEM knowledge and skills as a key, one that unlocks numerous career pathways. Supporting and growing a STEM workforce is a priority for NSF, a priority I know NAE shares.

[Slide #6: NSF investment in STEM ]

NSF supports STEM education across a wide spectrum -- from kindergarten through post-doctoral education -- for both students and teachers. The NSF-wide education investment, the majority of which is aimed at the future STEM workforce, is about $1.3 billion. This does not even include the investment we make in graduate research assistants, through funding of research awards.

[Slide #7: Computer Science for all]

Some of our programs directly support students through fellowships and scholarships -- such as our research traineeships. Others focus on sparking institutional change, such as CS for All, a commitment to enable rigorous and engaging computer science education in schools across America. CS for All lays the groundwork for computer science education in collaborative meetings like this one.

Other programs offer career-changing, hands-on research experiences for students, or help train students and teachers in key areas of national need.

[Slide #8: Computer Science for all]

And, of course, many of our programs are focused on broadening participation. Perhaps our most well-known is LSAMP, the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation. This program works to boost the numbers of students matriculating into and successfully completing high quality degree programs in STEM fields.

Ohio State is one of 10 institutions in the OHIO LSAMP Alliance -- just one stellar example of this program. Tens of thousands of students are helped every year by the sustained and impactful work from LSAMP alliances across the U.S.

For example, students shown in this photo are in the Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program's Middle School Academy. They are showing parts of a balsa wood bridge they built and then strength-tested to failure. Participants engage in a variety of hands-on activities from building a computer to dissecting squid to testing structures on an earthquake simulation table and much more. During the past 20 years, 350 Alaska Natives have earned science and engineering degrees. ANSEP's objective is to effect systemic change in the hiring patterns of Alaska Natives in science and engineering by placing students on a career path to leadership.

NSF believes we all need to open the door wider to an even greater number of untapped populations. We must give all our citizens a shot at participating in the technological revolutions transforming the U.S. economy.

[Slide #9: New STEM approach - NSF INCLUDES]

In response to this increasing need, we recently launched NSF INCLUDES.

[Slide #10: Tapping America's diverse talent is key to innovation]

There is increasing recognition that diversity is crucial -- and by broadening participation in the STEM workforce, we strengthen it. Creating the STEM workforce of the future means we must tap the innovation inherent in America's diversity. We can no longer leave anyone behind.

NSF INCLUDES stands for "Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners that have been Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science." It is an integrated, national initiative to increase the preparation, participation, advancement, and potential contributions of those who have been traditionally underserved in STEM.

NSF INCLUDES will build on and amplify NSF's current broadening participation portfolio through innovative partnerships that scale. We want to spark rapid progress to change the balance of diversity in science and engineering. We want the program to have significant national impact for the participation of underrepresented groups. We expect it to stimulate the community, forge new partnerships, and catalyze new approaches.

There are terrific pockets around the country where these kinds of innovations are already happening. What NSF INCLUDES aims to do is scale up those efforts, increasing their potency and impact, a hundred- or thousand-fold. This meeting is an opportunity to enhance the effort to achieve positive change, and we are proud to support NSF INCLUDES because we believe our nation's future depends on the ability of all our nation's citizens to participate in the technological revolution that is transforming our economy.

[Slide #11: NSF INCLUDES Timeline]

This year, we will launch NSF INCLUDES pilots, which will lay the foundation for potential partners to share common goals and purposes. This will be followed by NSF INCLUDES alliances, broad-based partnerships that will address ambitious concrete goals which are critical to achieving major advances in STEM inclusion.

A national NSF INCLUDES backbone will connect these alliances, drive overarching vision and strategy, advance policy and more. I've challenged university and college presidents and chancellors to take leadership in NSF INCLUDES, and work to generate new ideas and forge new partnerships. I issue the same challenge to everyone here today.

[Slide #12: Reworking STEM for the 21st Century]

Let me conclude by noting that recently I marked my second anniversary since being sworn in as NSF Director. I have spent much of the last two years meeting with Members of Congress, community leaders, Administration officials, NSF staff and our funded researchers and students across the U.S.

I have come away with an even deeper appreciation of the interests and talents of everyone involved in the science, engineering and education ecosystem. I believe we need to continue investing in America's scientific research infrastructure, because we never know where the next big breakthrough is going to come from -- or WHO will be the person or persons to make that big breakthrough.

That is why our motto is: NSF is where discoveries and discoverers begin!

That is why your mission -- to expand and extend STEM opportunities across the Nation -- is so critical to our future.

Thank you for all you do to advance science and scientists.