The National Science Foundation recently awarded $3 million over five years to a group of Upstate colleges, aimed at increasing the number of minority students in STEM degree programs.
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. The NSF grants are in response to the so-called Quiet Crisis – the threat to the ability of the United States to innovate, due to looming shortage in the nation’s STEM workforce. Shirley Ann Jackson, President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, puts it in pretty plain English:
The crisis stems from the gap between the nation’s growing need for scientists, engineers, and other technically skilled workers, and its production of them. As the generation educated in the 1950s and 1960s prepares to retire, our colleges and universities are not graduating enough scientific and technical talent to step into research laboratories, software and other design centers, refineries, defense installations, science policy offices, manufacturing shop floors and high-tech startups.
We ignore this gap at our peril.
I know of no engineer that needs to retire at age 65 if he or she doesn’t want to. Even in the Buffalo area, which does not have a significantly large high-tech workforce, the demand for good engineers and scientists outstrips the supply. Companies like Moog struggle to fill job openings. My own company has been challenged of late to find qualified candidates for the engineering job openings that we’ve posted.
Minorities in particular are underrepresented in STEM disciplines. The NSF-funded program hopes to increase minority enrollment in the Upstate college consortium and provide additional support through scholarships, mentoring and research opportunities.
The U.S. cannot afford to become a technological backwater.