Disruptive Innovation in Higher Education Summit: Strengthening the STEM Ecosystem

Earlier this year, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack proclaimed that "There is incredible opportunity for highly skilled jobs in agriculture." He was referring to a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Purdue University, which showed significant demand for recent college graduates with agriculture-related degrees. Specifically, the report estimates there are 57,900 openings in the U.S. annually in related fields — food, agriculture, natural resources and environment — but only 35,400 qualified U.S. graduates annually. That's 22,500 unfilled roles annually. 

What can be done to close this gap? One initiative underway is STEMconnector's STEM Higher Ed Council, which recently hosted a summit attended by approximinately 200 thought leaders in higher education, industry, the non-profit sector and government, commited to addressing this challenge. The summit, titled "Distruptive Innovation in Higher Education National Summit," was focused on collaborative solutions to develop and strengthen the nation's next generation of STEM talent — and ultimately help fill the growing pool of jobs in STEM fields.

A highlight for me was the pleasure of introducing one of the keynote speakers of the day, former U.S. Representative and Senior Education Advisor at Cengage Learning, George Miller, who provided great insight on the topic of equity in educaiton. It was truly inspiring to listen to the stories and perspective shared by this very passion and knowledgable group of people who are actively collaborating and visibly making waves of change to address themes such as retaining talent in STEM, aligning college majors to industry jobs, and broadening participation of underrepresented populations.

I felt very proud to represent Monsanto at the summit, and be able to talk about some of the ways in which we support the next generation of STEM leaders. Agriculture needs talented minds with STEM expertise in order to drive the innovations that will help us sustainably feed a growing population, and Monsanto is committed to working with others and supporting efforts to improve access to STEM education. This includes helping facilitate improvements in rural sectors, funding innovations that can continue to improve lives globally, and investing in new talent that is devoted to working in the field of agriculture and driving continuous innovation.

One program Monsanto supports takes place not far from where the summit was held, at McKinley Technology High School, in Northeast Washington, D.C. McKinley Technology High School is bringing innovative approaches to high school education with a focus on becoming one of the highest performing STEM schools in the country. On September 7, 2012, the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, named McKinley a National Blue Ribbon School.

As part of their biotechnology program, students at MTHS get exposure to plant science through their work in a greenhouse located within their campus. It is an amazing program that not only benefits the students, but also benefits the local community, as the harvest from the student's hard work gets sent to local homeless shelters. Monsanto proudly supports this "Greenhouse of Goodwill" program with funding, seeds, and mentoring.

As the demand from the shelters grows, students work to increase yield using their knowledge and skills in biology, engineering and IT. Through this process, the program becomes a microcosm of that larger interdisciplinary global challenge of feed a rapidly growing population. This dynamic illustrates the positive outcomes that can result when bright STEM-driven minds work together to find solutions. Indeed, it will take a broad range of ideas and resources to grow enough for a growing world.

Dan Jenkins is the U.S. Agency Regulatory Affairs Lead at Monsanto Company, an agricultural company committed to bringing a broad range of solutions to help nourish our growing world.

Originally published at