Editor’s note: WRAL Local Tech Wire has added another feature with the launch of the "Innovation Exchange." Noah Garrett, former executive director of communications for the North Carolina Technology Association, is a creative spirit, from writing music to news stories, who recently launched NGC Communications. The focus of the Innovation Exchange is just that – creating a Web community through which people can exchange ideas and foster creativity.

Participate in the Exchange. Send ideas and feedback to: noah@thinkngc.com

LAS CRUCES, N.M. – The Innovation Exchange continues to explore the world of innovation, and this week we are heading out west for “ENGAGE New Mexico,” where industry executives, government officials, educators, and students from throughout the nation will assemble on Friday to discuss better ways to develop a more dynamic and well-educated workforce equipped with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills.

The nature of today’s globalized workforce and the needs of our industries have changed and continue to change daily. Today, an understanding of scientific and mathematical principles, a working knowledge of computer hardware and software, and the problem-solving skills developed by courses in STEM are necessary for most jobs.

ENGAGE New Mexico will focus on these critical needs through expert collaboration.

Bob Gallagher is president of New Mexico Oil & Gas and sees ENGAGE New Mexico as a real opportunity to bring business and education together in order to better prepare tomorrow’s employees and leaders. He adds, "Our domestic oil and gas industry has watched as the number of universities that provide a degree in petroleum engineering has declined to the point that they can no longer provide these extremely valuable jobs to our industry. With the increasing demand for energy, it is imperative that we have communication and collaboration between our educational institutions, economic developers and the business community."

STEM Education is responsible for providing our country with intellectual capital such as scientists and engineers who will continue the research and development central to the economic growth of our country, technologically proficient workers who are capable of dealing with the demands of a high-technology workforce, and scientifically literate voters and citizens who make intelligent decisions about public policy and understand the world around them.

"This conference is of vital importance to the future of both students and industry," said U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico. "I firmly believe that a well-educated workforce is critical to a healthy economy, and there are steps we can take together to ensure our students are adequately prepared for the workforce of the future."

On an international scale, the United States typically scores toward the middle of the pack in math and science understanding among students in industrialized nations. Calls to improve our young people’s mastery of the material undergirding U.S. technological strength have been a recurrent refrain in the American education system despite increased expectations.

Many states are starting to buy into the notion that their fates in an increasingly competitive global economy will hinge on how well their young people are equipped to use and create the high-tech tools of tomorrow. The federal government also continues to promote STEM education by focusing on better coordination among agencies involved in such initiatives, improved dissemination of best practices in STEM education, and stronger research on what works.

"The way that scientists and engineers work today is very different than even a few years ago, but STEM education has not kept up with these changes," added Dr. Kemi Jona, Director of STEM Outreach at Northwestern University and national online learning expert speaking at ENGAGE New Mexico. "If we want to prepare today’s students to succeed in these fields, we need to make some urgent changes. New Mexico is taking a leadership position in bringing higher education and industry together to address this critical STEM workforce issue."

This is a critical time to realize the importance of building a motivated and prepared knowledge workforce – not just in New Mexico or North Carolina, but all over the country – and we must take an active role to improve resources in academics and to advocate for technology-literate students to remain competitive with the rest of the world.

As always, your thoughts are welcome and encouraged. Look for a full report from ENGAGE New Mexico next week. Have a great week!