(EDITOR’S NOTE: STEM News is new feature on Local Tech Wire through a collaborative effort with the NC STEM Community Collaborative, MCNC, and the North Carolina Science, Mathematics, and Technology Center (SMT Center). To submit story ideas, please email LTW Editor Rick Smith rsmith@wral.com or Noah Garrett noah@thinkngc.com.)

By: Russ Campbell, NC SMT Center

RALEIGH, N.C. – In March 2008, Microsoft Founder Bill Gates testified before the U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology and said: “I believe the country is at a crossroads. For decades innovation has been our engine of prosperity. Now economic progress depends more than ever on innovation.”

More than two years later, we all have seen incredible advances in science and technology that have revolutionized the way people around the world communicate, run business, find information and much more. The U.S. continues to be the world’s center for innovation, but our position remains at risk.

North Carolina companies are working harder than ever to keep our state on the cutting edge of technology by helping to bring the wonders of science and technology to young students. However, the shortage of students going into STEM fields today is a cause of serious concern for business leaders.

Companies throughout the state acknowledge that in order to have an innovative workforce, those seeds in STEM need to be planted early. So, companies continue to reach out to teachers and students to provide opportunities beyond the classroom. And, those opportunities are exposing teachers and students to the skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary to be successful in the 21st century workplace.

, an industrial biotechnology company, was recognized this year by the (SMT Center), for excellence in partnering with education.

Novozymes employees have supplemented classroom instruction in a variety of disciplines at Youngsville Elementary School. Microbiologists have worked with a group of students on wetlands and water quality issues. Soil scientists have presented classroom demonstrations aligned with the standard course of study to both third and fifth grades.

“We need to help develop the pipeline of people that have this kind of background,” said Adam Monroe, president of Novozymes North America. “And the way to do that, I think, is to get personally involved to show them the benefits; to show them the wonders of science.”

Four years ago, the (NCBCE) surveyed its members on what skills are needed for the 21st Century workforce. The results of that found that the most important skills applicable were math skills, teamwork, technological skills, social skills, and reading comprehension.

NCBCE Executive Director Tricia Willoughby said there is a myriad of things business can do today to be involved or supportive of education depending on the role they want to play.

“Our members believe very strongly that our economic development issues are inexplicitly joined to our education efforts,” added Willoughby. “There’s a consensus that you don’t train people for a job. If we’re training a third grader for a job, we’re doing them a disservice.”

There is a substantial list of industry-funded and maintained education programs available today to align education needs all over the country, but a great example of a North Carolina company that is focusing on the future workforce by putting curriculum in place for teachers and students comes from the SAS Institute in Cary.

The world’s largest privately-owned software company continues to expand its .

Fully funded by SAS and offered at no cost to U.S. educators and students, SAS Curriculum Pathways is designed to enhance student achievement and teacher effectiveness by providing Web-based curriculum resources in all the core disciplines (English, math, science, social studies/history and Spanish) to educators and students in grades 8-14 in virtual schools, home schools, high schools, and community colleges.

“The goal is to take today’s kids who are so wrapped up in technology and find a way to get them interested in learning, and the best way we think to do it is to engage them with technology,” SAS Founder and CEO Jim Goodnight explained in a video produced for the SMT Center awards in 2009. .

Since it was announced in December 2008, SAS Curriculum Pathways is now used in schools and at home in all 50 states, and more than 38,000 teachers have accounts with more than 15,000 items available for use.

“STEM is vitally important to this country if we’re going to be competitive for the rest of the century,” said Goodnight. “We’re very weak in this area. Not enough kids are coming through high school and going to college in the STEM skills."

Business and corporate leadership in North Carolina and throughout the nation now look at preparing minds to think beyond what kind of job they will have after graduation; instead to think of what kind of job they will create. This approach provides hope to advance the right STEM strategies – now and tomorrow.

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