By Christina Calloway
PNT senior writer
Kenwyn Cradock says the demand for jobs in the science, technology, engineering and math, widely known as STEM, has had a snowball effect, further driving the need for funding at the education level.
Cradock, a project director for the STEM Grant at Eastern New Mexico University and director of the regional science fair, said increasing funding at the elementary and high school levels for STEM education and programs will help attract children to those fields when they are most curious.
“It’s about the hands-on experience. That’s what captured me and that’s what captured my peers,” said Cradock who was first attracted to science because of his fascination with insects. “If you lose that in the K-12 level, you’re not going to have it in college and that affects the workforce.”
New Mexico’s U.S. congressmen said they saw the need for funding for STEM education and have introduced a bill to strengthen the STEM education and training programs in New Mexico and the U.S.
According to U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., the act includes a package of initiatives designed to improve student interest and performance in STEM skills. It would also help teachers and schools better engage students in STEM fields by providing additional professional development resources and facilitating collaboration among the business and education communities in order to better identify STEM skills needed by the workforce.
“New Mexico has a rich history involving STEM fields and this bill will encourage a new generation of students to develop the skills necessary to succeed in these areas,” Udall said.
U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., who is also active with the introduction of the bill, said education is the most important investment Congress can make.
“By providing key resources to prepare our students in science, technology, engineering, and math, this legislation will help Americans compete for jobs in a global market, creating a stronger, brighter future for our students and our nation,” Pearce said. “I’m proud to join my colleagues from New Mexico to improve the education and opportunities available to our next generation of leaders and innovators.”
According to the National Math and Science Initiative, in 2011, only 45 percent of U.S. high school graduates were ready for college-level math, and only 30 percent ready for college-level science. The initiative also found the U.S. could be short as many as 3 million high-skilled workers by 2018.
“The push for job-ready grads is strong. If they’re not getting the experience in school, how will they be job-ready?,” Cradock said. “Personally, I don’t know any unemployed mathematicians.”
Cradock says ENMU’s grant allows them to work with students in grades 9-12. But the money also allows them to provide resources to students and teachers in middle and elementary schools.
Cradock says funding and participation from teachers will allow them to continue to provide those services.
“I think particularly in STEM fields, there’s a press from the government and the industry for job-ready grads and without the financial support, it’s asking the colleges to do a lot,” Cradock said.
According to U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., The STEM Act would:
- Develop effective state STEM networks among schools, teachers, administrators, institutions of higher education, nonprofit organizations and businesses to increase communication and collaboration in these fields.
- Establish matching grant training programs for summer institutes and other professional development enrichment programs for teachers to improve STEM education in elementary, middle and high school
- Develop a national panel to evaluate and identify rigorous K-12 STEM curricula models, including computer and/or web-based simulation education programs and kinesthetic learning.