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By Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty
When my son was young, I helped coach his high school robotics team. Across the country, robotics competitions inspire the next generation of innovators and provide valuable opportunities for hands-on, experimental learning. Today, as a member of the Research and Technology Subcommittee in the U.S. House of Representatives, I am committed to promoting and improving our nation’s science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills and training. As federal policymakers, we must invest in educating a workforce capable of supporting STEM industries ranging from manufacturing to healthcare, and from energy to information technology. And no investment in STEM education is complete without a commitment to research. During my time in Congress, I have witnessed firsthand the intersection between scientific research and public policy. I see that as our economy’s growth increasingly relies on innovation, scientific research and discovery must drive our national policy agenda.
The value of STEM education in America’s schools cannot be overstated. We need to do everything in our power to inspire STEM competencies in our young learners and promote quality scientific research. Students need early exposure to STEM concepts, and we must ensure that our secondary and postsecondary school graduates are ready to pursue STEM careers. Last October, the President signed my STEM Education Act into law. This new law strengthens STEM training for our teachers and helps our students prepare for 21st century careers. We all know that students — particularly elementary-school students — learn best when they are engaged and interested. But, parents and teachers will be the first to tell you how difficult it can be to spark a child’s passion for science and math without innovative and creative learning environments. We must support innovative, passionate teachers for every child in every school. The STEM Education Act improves access to Master Teaching Fellowships so that more of our country’s outstanding teachers can receive top notch training to better provide mentoring and learn new techniques to keep STEM education relevant to our nation’s youth.
Equally important to promoting STEM education is engaging women and minorities in STEM fields. While women make up nearly half of our workforce, only a quarter of STEM jobs are held by women. By 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates one million computer programming jobs will be left unfilled. But, in 2013, only three states reported a single female student participated in a computer science advanced placement test. Young women and minorities deserve these opportunities — and our research institutions will benefit from more diverse workplaces. Broadening the STEM talent pool to include a workforce that has been historically missing can bolster scientific research by bringing together untapped minds from different backgrounds and with varied perspectives.
Numerous companies, foundations, and nonprofit organizations are doing their part to successfully promote STEM education and to help inform our nation’s policymakers about cutting-edge research. One message I hear over and over is that federal funding for scientific research is important. Supporting research guarantees that our innovation economy extends beyond discoveries in fields with clearly profitable returns on investment. We invested in putting a man on the moon with no clear path for recouping costs and that research spurred countless innovations that benefit our lives. Scientific research is instrumental in developing federal policy and ensuring that the U.S. remains competitive in our ever-changing global economy. If we encourage our students to explore STEM education, support a diverse STEM workforce, and promote career opportunities in STEM industries, our nation’s researchers and scientists will help our country thrive throughout the 21st century.
U.S. Representative Elizabeth Esty represents Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District. Esty serves as Co-Chair of the New Democrat Coalition’s 21st Century Jobs Skills Working Group, and the Transportation & Infrastructure and Science, Space, & Technology Committees. She has introduced and sponsored numerous policy proposals to improve STEM education and support female entrepreneurs. Rep. Esty’s bipartisan STEM Education Bill — co-sponsored by Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith — was signed into law by President Obama in October 2015.
Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty