Will on the Hill: Stepping Up for STEM

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Will on the Hill: Stepping Up for STEM 

Academic pharmacy can minimize the impact of the gathering storm.

In 2007 the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) published an influential report describing the peril faced by the United States for its decreasing attention to robust science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in kindergarten through undergraduate education. Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Educating America for a Brighter Economic Future was written at the request of members of Congress interested in knowing, “What are the top 10 actions, in priority order, that federal policymakers could take to enhance the science and technology enterprise so that the United States can successfully compete, prosper, and be secure in the global community of the 21st century? What strategy, with several concrete steps, could be used to implement each of those actions?”

Local Outreach Is Key

The committee assembled by NAS had only 10 weeks to develop their response, but the report clearly stated that because business leaders expect an educated workforce, it is imperative to the country’s economic benefit that at least four key areas of action be considered: K–12 education (10,000 Teachers, 10 Million Minds), research (Sowing the Seeds), higher education (Best and Brightest), and economic policy (Incentives for Innovation).

Improving STEM education in K-12 requires recruiting “the best and brightest” to educate those students. Colleges and schools of pharmacy can increase the success of local recruitment and retention efforts through community partnerships. This outreach can provide new K-12 faculty with science and health professions mentors who may be the key to reaching a new generation of potential researchers and health professionals. Sowing the seeds that bloom into individuals full of curiosity in seeking new knowledge can be facilitated through programs that put high school students into the research labs of pharmacy faculty, where they are engaged in real work with clear expectations. Bringing the best and brightest to your campus to see what the education of a pharmacist actually entails can create a pipeline of potential applicants that are ready, eager and aware of the educational expectations and opportunities. Economic policy requires a continued commitment to educating individuals with the ability to create and change laws that recognize the value of research, teaching and service in the community, state and nation.

Supporting Your STEM Efforts

One federal agency that is prepared to assist you in meeting any of the four key areas of focus stated in the report is the National Science Foundation. Before and after the publication of that landmark report, NSF established award programs that seek to integrate and strengthen STEM education across the education continuum. In its 2011–2016 strategic plan, NSF stands ready to “Prepare and engage a diverse STEM workforce motivated to participate at the frontiers.” This goal is activated through the Directorate for Education and Human Resources, which provides competitive awards that can strengthen your student and faculty capacity to collaborate within and outside of their institution. The awards also can be used for faculty outreach initiatives to assist undergraduate students in their journey toward professional and graduate education.

Although it is not currently providing funding, NSF issued 31 Innovation through Institutional Integration (I3) awards, all focused on improving collaboration and increasing STEM capacity in various educational settings. Examples of approaches that include STEM education and student and faculty experiences are available on the I3 Web site.

William G. Lang is Vice President of Policy and Advocacy at AACP; wlang@aacp.org.

Resources

National Academy of Sciences
www.nasonline.gov

Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Educating America for a Brighter Economic Future
http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11463

National Science Foundation
www.nsf.org

Directorate for Education and Human Resources
http://www.nsf.gov/dir/index.jsp?org=EHR

Innovation through Institutional Integration (I3)
http://nsf-i3.org/

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