Investing in STEM Today Builds Companies for Tomorrow
By: Marissa Shorenstein
To visit a sixth grade class today is to be reminded of how quickly the world is changing. The students I sat with recently at Middle School 223 in the Bronx were nearly fluent in multiple coding languages and had just created their own content-based websites. They are 11 years old.
For all the talk of the skills gaps between what students know and the talents current jobs require, it’s a relief to see that schools are beginning to address the challenge head on. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) curricula are becoming increasingly programmed into the school day, and students are being introduced to these fields earlier in their academic careers.
For companies like AT&T that rely on highly skilled workers to keep us at the forefront of innovation, this commitment couldn’t come at a more critical time. According to a 2009 report, by 2020 the U.S. labor market will demand an estimated 123 million highly skilled workers, but only 50 million Americans are expected to be qualified to fill those slots. In order to meet demand, the private sector must work to bolster the talent pipeline to help ensure students are exposed to the sets of skills.
This is a driving factor behind our $350 million Aspire program, which is AT&T’s signature education initiative aimed to help young people graduate from high school ready for college and career success by providing resources to school districts and community-based organizations across the country.
New York City, where AT&T has more than 1,000 employees, is at the forefront of this effort. We have invested significant resources –including a $1.6 million donation from the AT&T Foundation to The Fund for Public Schools—to promote the New York City Department of Education’s STEM education and awareness initiatives. Through this contribution, we are helping expand the Department of Education’s Software Engineering Program (SEP), which aims to provide students with skills they need to thrive in college and to enter the computer and engineering workforce. We are supporting the launch of a new enrichment program for ninth-graders as well as other academic activities like boot camps and hackathons that enhance students’ knowledge and provide hands-on experience in high-tech fields.
For instance, at a hackathon this past spring, teams of middle and high school students were tasked with building a project that brought people closer together through technology. “Team Markers” from Nathaniel Hawthorne Middle School 74 won “Most Innovative” for their Scratch game, which sought to help Spanish-speaking students learn English.
This summer, AT&T is supporting an enrichment program for career and technical education freshmen students who have the opportunity to develop their software engineering skills through curriculum ranging from computer science fundamentals to game design and robotics. Additionally, beginning this fall, we will fund paid internships for more than 500 high school students so they can apply and continue to develop their tech skills in the workplace.
We hear so often about the ease with which the younger generation uses technology. It seems like common sense to provide opportunities for them put their abilities to good use. The global economy is evolving and our public education system must adapt along with it. AT&T is proud to be working closely with educators to solve the skills challenge and make sure that students starting school today are prepared for the jobs of tomorrow.