Monday, May 30 , 2016, 7:09 pm | A Few Clouds 59º

Training America’s Future Techies Takes Root in STEM Development

Clinton Global Initiative, corporate America unite to emphasize benefits of science, technology, engineering and math education — even on Sesame Street

By Ben Preston, Noozhawk Contributing Writer | @NoozhawkNews |

[Noozhawk’s note: Former Noozhawk staff writer Ben Preston covered the recent Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting in New York City. First in a series sponsored by the Foundation for Santa Barbara City College.]

Have you taken a close look at your car recently? If it was built within the last 10 years, it more than likely has a computer-controlled fuel management system, electronic tire pressure sensors, and maybe even a built-in satellite navigation system.

The sputtering motorized buggies that Henry Ford manufactured 100 years ago have evolved into highly complex machines produced by multiple teams of engineers and scientists clustered around the world.

Even if you don’t own a car, everything from your electric meter to the supermarket checkout scanner have been made more efficient with technology. But that also means these things are more complicated than ever, requiring, as with automobiles, crack teams of technically savvy people to build and maintain them.

At the recent Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting in New York City, President Barack Obama put out the call: science, technology, engineering and math — referred to as STEM by policymakers — teachers wanted; skilled labor needed.

As former President Bill Clinton, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and a host of other national and international leaders in attendance suggested, it will take myriad new technologies to bring humanity up to speed as the world’s population approaches 7 million.

Since 1800, the world’s urban population has increased to more than 50 percent from 3 percent. Facilitating even traffic flows — whether pedestrian, vehicular or train — takes increasingly sophisticated, computer-aided solutions. Imagine New York City’s 9 million or so people, living on what is essentially a tiny cluster of islands, without more-or-less smoothly functioning infrastructure to keep them moving. It would be a disaster, something along the lines of post-war Baghdad, where roads are often blocked with awful traffic and trash piles up in the streets.

The bottom line is that although rising average unemployment in the United States stands at nearly 10 percent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that jobs in scientific and technical consulting services will expand by 83 percent by 2018. Someone has to fill those jobs, and to do so, they will need training.

Consensus among Clinton and others at CGI indicated that America is falling behind in the global technology race, but deadline-oriented participants in the nonprofit organization have thrown a lot of money at the problem. STEM commitments made by a collection of member corporations and nonprofit organizations total more than $57 million, funding a variety of programs aimed at training STEM teachers and engaging young students in STEM courses of study.

“CGI has been a great platform to meet other people who are focused on STEM, because we can get a lot more done together,” said Erica Christensen, who handles philanthropic ventures for Long Island, N.Y.-based Ca Technologies.

Like many other companies in the tech sector, Ca Technologies has a vested interest in seeing more STEM-oriented students enter the workforce. The company focuses its efforts on educating women. One arm of its program, which Christensen called “Geek Chic,” attempts to entice young girls into technology-related fields of study by making math and science fun. In a partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Ca Technologies will run a program called Tech Girls Rock at five locations around the country — in San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, New York City and Plano, Texas.

Army Sgt. Sebastian Cila demonstrates his new robotic hand on a  'Sesame Street' special, 'Coming Home: Military Families Cope with Change.'
Army Sgt. Sebastian Cila demonstrates his new robotic hand on a Sesame Street special, “Coming Home: Military Families Cope with Change.” (U.S. Army photo)

America’s STEM deficiency hasn’t escaped the attention of Sesame Street programmers, so the show’s upcoming season — which debuted last month — features more of a focus on math and science. Relying on star power and a new-for-2011 Super Grover 2.0 discovery segment, Sesame Street producers hope to engage pre-school children in STEM subject learning by keeping the shows characteristically light and entertaining. In the past, celebrities from Jack Black to LL Cool J explained topics like transportation and liquids.

“Informational media is a big part of the lives and education of children,” said Lewis Bernstein, executive vice president of education and research for Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit behind Sesame Street.

“So we’ve begun focusing on STEM to be as important as language and diversity.”

Christensen said Ca Technologies partnered with Sesame Workshop to help spread the word about the company’s face time-centered educational programs. Other companies are following suit. Results from the 2009 International Student Assessment ranked American students 23rd in science and 31st in math compared with students from other countries.

Guess who took first in both of those categories? China.

Researchers have found that exposure to Sesame Street as a preschooler equals higher achievement in high school. If enough American children simply benefit from the “Sesame Street effect,” the United States will be able to keep its spot as the No. 1 economy in the world. Being No. 2, or less, would be, well, un-American.

Perhaps you can benefit from one of the programs offered by Clinton Global Initiative participants. Here’s a list of some of the other organizations pitching in money and manpower to train more teachers and get children interested in STEM:

American Indian Science & Engineering Society, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, American Society for Nutrition, S.D. Betchel, Joe Bellina, Captain Planet Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Caterpillar Inc., Chemical Educational Foundation, Chevron Corp., Conrad Foundation, Cummins Inc., Dow Chemical Co., Dow Chemical Foundation, Eli Lilly & Co., ExxonMobil Corp., Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc., General Electric, Iberville Parish School Board, State of Indiana, Intel Corp., Laurel Springs School, Louisiana Community and Technical College Foundation, Motorola Inc., NASA, National Math + Science Initiative, National Science Teachers Association, National Society of Black Engineers, U.S. Office of Naval Research, Sigma Xi, Society of Automotive Engineers, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, Society of Women Engineers, State Department, U.N. Global 500 Environmental Forum, United Technologies Corp., The University of Texas at Austin, U.S. Coast Guard, UTeach Institute and the William James Foundation.

— Former Noozhawk staff writer Ben Preston received his master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2011, and can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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