The clamor from employers, industrial leaders, research organizations and state government for graduates schooled in science disciplines is not falling on deaf ears. If anything, it has helped ignite a competitive surge among private and public colleges and universities to ensure that Connecticut is producing the science and mathematics teachers, researchers, health-care professionals and engineers our state needs to ensure continued technological growth, steady employment and economic stability over the coming decades.
Jobs in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields are expanding faster than non-STEM jobs and, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, will reach nine million by 2022. Technology employers value skills in logical thinking, creative problem-solving and persistence, all hallmarks of STEM-related education. But marketplace requirements are in stark contrast to reality: less than half of all U.S. students are proficient in math, and that number drops precipitously to 26 percent by 12th grade. Science expertise does not score much higher. These achievement gaps already are fanning a technology employment crisis.
Part of the answer is increased focus on K-12 math and science learning, with strong efforts to close the achievement and attainment gaps in Connecticut’s schools. Children from disadvantaged communities and children of color often fare far worse in standardized mathematics and reading testing than do their counterparts in wealthier, typically suburban cities. More resources, including early-childhood learning and parent-engagement programs need to be championed, and higher education needs to produce new teaching candidates with strong STEM foundations so they can bring that learning and experience into K-12 classrooms.
Responding to these needs, Sacred Heart University has created four STEM-related majors in traditional science, neuroscience, molecular and cellular biology and coastal and marine science, and will be introducing a new elementary-education STEM major next fall. SHU is joining the state’s other universities and colleges to stretch its science acumen across a variety of disciplines to ensure students in other curricula are properly exposed to these science strengths.
Institutions of higher education are also entering into innovation partnerships with technology employers, such as SHU’s agreement with Verizon for the creation and operation of an innovative co-working space at our West Campus (the former GE property). This space will be a hub for innovation teams from large and small companies; for entrepreneurs who want to test their ideas, grow their businesses and work collaboratively in a supportive environment; and for individual professionals who want to work in a dynamic office environment.
The university also has created the state’s first formal certification in computer science for k-12 educators. Courses will be offered this summer, and this spring, SHU will host CS4 CT, a computer-science summit open to school leaders, administrators and educators.
As Connecticut employers ponder their future in Connecticut and are wooed by other states with vigorous technology and innovation pipelines the state’s colleges and universities are ensuring that students and educators receive the right education, at the right time, with the dual goals of retaining STEM-related graduates and the employers hungry for this talent in Connecticut. Connecticut’s colleges and universities are supporting the state’s economic growth and prosperity now and have plans to continue for many years to come.
Rupendra Paliwal is provost and vice president of academic affairs at Sacred Heart University.
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