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Witnesses Highlight Importance of Public-Private Partnerships to Inspire Students in STEM Fields

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Location: Washington, DC

Today, the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held its second in a series of hearings to highlight science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education activities across the nation, their role in inspiring and educating future generations, and their contribution to our future economic prosperity. The hearing showcased a variety of public/private partnerships and initiatives that are successfully inspiring the future STEM workforce.

In his opening remarks, Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) noted that the federal government is investing billions of dollars on STEM education each year. "While there may be a federal role, industry, philanthropic organizations, non-profits and local governments have also acknowledged the importance of making investments in STEM," Hall said. "Partnerships and initiatives formed by these investments are critical. Particularly in this difficult budget climate, we want to highlight some of these efforts and partnerships that are thriving with little or no federal investment."

Highlighting his work in student robotics competitions, Mr. Tony Norman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Innovation First International, discussed his work in promoting VEX robotics competitions in schools. He said that "VEX Robotics integrates education and technology, and gets entire classrooms of students to have a hands-on experience and understanding for what engineering can really be like." In order to spark greater student interest in STEM education, Mr. Norman said "We need to engage, inspire and prepare students to pursue science, engineering and technology in higher education and as a profession -- and robotics serves as the perfect catalyst. Robotics makes STEM relevant to students, and relevancy drives engagement, inspiration and action."

Discussing her goal to "ignite America's interest and passion for STEM education," Ms. Nancy Conrad, Chairman of the Conrad Foundation, outlined her Foundation's successful Spirit of Innovation Awards (SOIA) completion. As part of the SOIA, students create an innovative product that can be used to address a real-world problem and ultimately be viable in the commercial marketplace. Ms. Conrad said that as a result of their program, several students have received patents and gained the opportunity to commercialize their products. Ms. Conrad said that her Foundation believes in "continuous evaluation to ensure we are meeting the needs of our nation and providing the best quality support to the field of education."

Bringing a unique perspective to the panel, Mr. Michael D. Gallagher, President and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), highlighted the potential for interactive video games to teach students about the STEM fields. "ESA and the video game industry have undertaken several initiatives in an attempt to play a catalytic positive role in engaging children in core STEM subjects," Gallagher said. He explained that such initiatives utilize children's enthusiasm toward video games, and have enormous potential "to foster highly engaged, effective learning and motivation for STEM."

Chairman Hall reflected on the inspiration he felt earlier this year after attending the Vex Robotics World Championship and seeing first-hand students' excitement about robotics and engineering. Several Members questioned the panel on how Congress can better support such innovative hands-on initiatives that pair public and private resources in order to inspire students to pursue STEM fields.


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