Today during a Commerce Committee hearing, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) highlighted successful science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) school models in Washington state and asked how these models can be scaled up and replicated in other areas. During questioning, Cantwell emphasized her support of STEM education and looking at ways to improve STEM education and continue investment in the next COMPETES Reauthorization.
The hearing examined the implementation of the America COMPETES Act, which became law in 2007 and was reauthorized in 2010, and the challenges in maintaining America's competitiveness in innovation and technology. America COMPETES is up for reauthorization next year. Witnesses included Dr. Peter Lee, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft Research in Redmond.
"In Washington state, whether it's the Delta High School in Richland or I look at Vancouver iTech Preparatory School which has gotten a lot of help from the high-tech industry there. Or I look at Aviation High School in Seattle which has gotten a lot of help from Boeing. Or what's now going to happen at Riverpoint Academy in Spokane, again with a lot of the health care industry stepping up," Cantwell said at today's hearing.
"These things have incubation or help and support from private sector entities that care a lot about establishing these programs," Cantwell continued. "And they seem to be doing quite well in breaking down the barriers but what do we do about scalability? Are we only going to have successful STEM programs where there are successful private sector partners? Or if the neighborhood just doesn't happen to have that successful partner how are we going to leverage that private sector commitment to STEM?"
"First of all it is very important for Microsoft to invest in education locally," Dr. Lee responded. "There are lots of reasons for that. If we look at the major universities in Washington state, they are producing computer science graduates at a rate that's below the number of openings we have annually at Microsoft."
According to Dr. Lee's written testimony, in August 2012, Microsoft had more than 3,400 unfilled research and engineering positions in the United States, a 34 percent increase compared to the previous year.
Dr. Lee continued: "I am heartened by the fact that over the past five years of COMPETES at least at the collegiate level we are starting to gain some traction. I do worry about the pipeline running dry though at the K-12 level. And so things that we can do in the context of COMPETES or in other ways to increase interest, to increase our effectiveness, to increase the number of teachers who are able to provide instruction and interest and inspiration, particularly at the K-12 level I think is a very important place to look."
An archived webcast of the hearing is available at the Senate Commerce Committee's website here. Cantwell's comments begin at 1:43:38.
According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics' estimate, also cited in Dr. Lee's written testimony, between 2010 and 2020, there will be at least 1.2 million job openings in computing professions that require at least a bachelor's degree. In 2020, half of the more than nine million STEM jobs will be in computing. "Yet in 2010, only about 60,000 bachelor's, master's, and Ph.D. degrees were rewarded in computer science -- far less than the predicted demand," Dr. Lee wrote in his written testimony.
Cantwell has been a key advocate for the advancement of the America COMPETES Act. She was an original cosponsor of the bill when it was first introduced and passed in August 2007, and she helped secure Senate passage of its reauthorization in 2010.
The America COMPETES Act invests in key science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) research and education programs. The legislation also reauthorizes the Advanced Research Project Agency -- Energy (ARPA-E) which supports cutting-edge research in breakthrough energy technologies. COMPETES also provides innovation and competitiveness grants as well as other research projects and opportunities funded under the Office of Science and Technology, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Institute for Standards and Technology, and the National Science Foundation.
Cantwell has long believed it is critical to America's competitiveness to invest in preparing America's students for careers in STEM-related fields. In 2010 she joined colleagues in introducing the bipartisan Engineering Education for Innovation Act, which invests in integrating engineering education into K-12 curriculum and instruction. In January 2011, she met with education officials, students and workforce representatives in central, eastern and southwest Washington to discuss the importance of STEM education to address workforce shortages in key technological jobs.
Cantwell is also a long-time supporter of ARPA-E and the projects it supports. She helped author the legislation that created the program that invests in high-risk, high-reward clean energy technology research and development in the private sector. It is modeled after Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an organization that hired the best program managers from industry and acted quickly in initiating high risk, high payoff projects. DARPA pioneered the use of technology competitions as a means to quickly accelerate innovation and the model has led to technological breakthroughs such as the internet, stealth, robotics and the U.S. semiconductors industry's SEMATECH.
ARPA-E was authorized in August 2007 as part of the America COMPETES Act, but only received its initial funding of $404 million in fiscal years 2009 and 2010, which Cantwell fought to help secure.
A complete transcript of Cantwell's remarks during today's hearing is pasted below:
Senator Maria Cantwell: I do have a question, you know, about STEM for the panel in general. And that is just that as I've looked at these STEM focuses in Washington state whether it's the Delta High School in Richland, which is focused in particular from a lot of help because of the National Laboratory that is there in Battelle. Or I look at Vancouver iTech Preparatory School which has gotten a lot of help from the high-tech industry there. Or I look at Aviation High School in Seattle which has gotten a lot of help from Boeing. Or what's now going to happen at Riverpoint Academy in Spokane, again with the health care industry stepping up. The question becomes, you know a lot of these things have, you know, incubation or help and support from private sector entities that care a lot about establishing these programs. And they seem to be doing quite well in breaking down the barriers but what do we do about scalability. Are we only going to have successful STEM programs where there is successful private sector partners? Or if the neighborhood just doesn't happen to have that successful partner how are we going to leverage that private sector commitment to for doing STEM. So I don't know if anybody has any comments on that. Dr. Lee?
Dr. Peter Lee, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Research Redmond: So I'd be happy to give some reactions. So first of all it is very important for Microsoft to invest in education locally. There are lots of reasons for that. If we look at the major universities in Washington state they are producing computer science graduates at a rate that's below the number of openings we have annually at Microsoft. And that is not just a workforce pipeline issue but in fact as we recruit, we are recruiting people who tend to have children who they would like to have local opportunities for education in similar fields. And so it's also for us a community and development and recruiting priority. And as you pointed out, then the question is there is only so much that we can do locally. How do we scale?
Senator Maria Cantwell: Isn't the number something like we need 300,000 computer scientists on a national basis every year and we are graduating like 73 or something thousand? So we are not off by a little we are off by a lot.
Dr. Peter Lee, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Research Redmond: That's right. And so I think I am heartened by the fact that over the past five years of COMPETES at least at the collegiate level we are starting to gain some traction. We are starting to see some increase. I do worry about the pipeline running dry though at the K-12 level. And so things that we can do in the context of COMPETES or in other ways to increase interest, to increase our effectiveness, to increase the number of teachers who are able to provide instruction and interest and inspiration, particularly at the K-12 level I think is a very important place to look.
Mr. John Winn, Chief Program Officer, National Math and Science Initiative: If I may Mr. Chairman? I'd like to respond as well. We are expanding STEM Advanced Placement program as one of our standard bearer programs at the National Math and Science Initiative. We are now in 300 high schools in the United States and I can say that the investment, particularly local investment, of our corporations and private industry are alive and well. In fact far exceed government sponsored funding for implementing new and innovative Advanced Placement programs. We are in the process now since we've been over four years of instilling the programs and scaling them up. We started with about 60 schools in 2007-2008 now we are in 300. And we are just now seeing part of our replication program is to work on ways to sustain the program because we believe that corporations have an incredibly important role but more as a catalyst to get innovation started then to sustain programs in schools over long periods of time. And so in the spirit of that we have had corporations be very responsive to doing just that. And now we are in the process of working with state and local school districts and state legislatures to help fund the continuation of those programs. And part of that process is demonstrating the remarkable improvement in Advanced Placement passing scores by all students. Particularly by under-represented students, females and minority students.
Senator Maria Cantwell: Thank you. Did you have something Mr. Wieman you wanted to add?
The Honorable Carl E. Wieman, Distinguished Professor of Physics, Presidential Teaching Scholar, and Director of the Science Education Initiative, University of Colorado Boulder: I think that you touched on a very real problem. As Dr. Winn says industries really like to invest locally and what that means is that some, in a geographic sense the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. And so that kind of makes it a federal problem to be dealt with. I think it's a very important problem you need to think about.
Senator Maria Cantwell: Well my time is almost up but I think what Mr. Winn was saying so for example, Dell was a big supporter of STEM in Texas, that you know once you got one school district going then you'd go to the state legislature and others and say ok now how do we replicate this. Is that right? Is that what you were saying?
Mr. John Winn, Chief Program Officer, National Math and Science Initiative: Yes.
Senator Maria Cantwell: Ok, so the question is you know how do we take aviation high school and replicate that across a much different jurisdiction?