Editor’s note: The "Innovation Exchange," a regular feature in Local Tech Wire, is written by Noah Garrett, former director of communications for the North Carolina Technology Association, a creative spirit, from writing music to news stories, and owner and operator NGC Communications. The focus of the Innovation Exchange is just that – creating a web community through which people can exchange ideas and foster creativity.

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Is our country really prepared to take a leap into the unknown?

(IENM), a catalyst in 21st century education and work force development based in Santa Fe, will host its first national conference to advance engineering and science education April 30-May 2 at the Albuquerque Convention Center.

This event will bring together state and national leaders in industry, education and government to coordinate existing efforts and collaborate on new ideas that better engage students in the science and engineering fields while also preparing a competitive work force in the U.S.

Jami Grindatto is Intel’s corporate and government affairs director in New Mexico and also serves as IENM’s chairman. He said our country today faces a national challenge that hits the core of our economy.

“We are failing to graduate engineering and science students to meet the demands of a competitive world driven by productive and innovative markets,” said Grindatto. “Science, technology, engineering and mathematics are the innovators’ basic tools to solve the world’s most pressing issues, create products and deliver services that improve our lives. We must increase the number of graduates in engineering and sciences. This is Innovate-Educate New Mexico’s main objective to secure long-term economic health.”

By initiating such a unique educational effort that creates new opportunities and fosters new ideas on a national level, it may just serve as a the first straightforward model this county has seen for delivering substantive improvements in engineering and science education by applying best practices in a coordinated and methodical way. Plus, it gets real feedback from really big tech companies who will share what they are looking for in hiring new workers.

Out of the many conferences I have attended and covered over the years, this is event truly has a dynamic agenda to engage K-12, higher education, industry and government participants. According to event organizers, nearly 400 folks from all over the country have registered to date – including several top leaders from North Carolina.

Focus areas on the agenda include higher education; K-12 educators and leadership; industry, technology leaders and chambers of commerce; and government officials, economic development leaders and state/national legislators. The last day also features the eighth annual RoboRAVE Robotics Competition.

Now, I had an opportunity to be involved with RoboRave last year, and boy, it is way cool. More than 100 teams in various education levels compete for cash, prizes, and awards. It is well worth the price of admission.

The entire conference seems to be shaping up to be a real eye-opener.

Education continues to play a central role in addressing the challenges of the 21st century and is crucial for the development of knowledge-based economies. Their roles in leadership training and educating the population in the skills needed for complex, modern societies are essential.

Dr. Chris Dede is a nationally renowned speaker and graduate professor in learning technologies and innovation at Harvard University and is one of the many fantastic keynote speakers scheduled to participate next month. I will leave you this week with some thoughts he sent regarding his upcoming talk. He calls it “Evolution vs. Transformation.”

Is the schooling system so badly out of touch with 21st century needs and digital kids’ motivations that nothing less than reinventing education will work? Or, could a powerful approach to STEM education evolve out of current curriculum standards, tests, and accountability measures by adding funding and by working in a more thoughtful and coherent way? If only transformation will work, rather than evolution, what is the evidence that the country is well poised to take such a leap into the unknown?