Local Tech Wire STEM News

DURHAM, N.C. – There was a sense of urgency in the room as North Carolina’s business, political, and education elites huddled Thursday at the N.C Chamber’s 2nd Annual Education Summit in Durham.

The topic: How can business help schools do a better job of developing workers trained for 21st Century jobs?

The urgency is nothing new. The 1983 publication of the U.S. Department of Education’s report A Nation at Risk lamented the state of U.S. education comparing it to an enemy invasion that America itself let happen.

Department of Education Senior Advisor Dennis Bega spoke at the summit and said many of our education challenges remain, especially in the area of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education.

According to Bega, 15 year olds in the U.S. ranked 17th out of 29 developed countries in science skills and 24th in math. Nationwide, the high-school dropout rate is nearing 30 percent.

The summit explored how the education and business communities can "improve the learning experiences and job outcomes for students," according to NC Chamber President Lew Ebert.

Former Governor Jim Hunt, who opened the day’s conversation, encouraged participants to see the meeting as “not about the past; it’s about the future … not just of education, but the future of our economy."

Hunt also pointed to positive trends.

He said there are 82, 000 board certified teachers in the United States, and 16,000 of them are right here in North Carolina.

A panel discussion moderated by North Carolina Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education Center President Sam Houston looked at partnerships between education and business. Keith Poston, director of public affairs at Time Warner Cable, discussed the nationwide Connect a Million Minds program, geared towards encouraging middle-school students to consider STEM careers.

He said there are no low-tech jobs at Time Warner, and 30 percent of the applicants fail the computer literacy part of the application process. Added Poston, "taking science and math is going to make a huge difference regardless of what field they go into."

Karl Rectanus, leader of the NC STEM Community Collaborative, discussed a regional STEM hub in Lenoir County where students and teachers can take advantage of programs, internships and mentorships. Kinston started a communications campaign called “Got STEM?”

“This was once a place that was tobacco and manufacturing, and it still is to some extent, but it is transitioning its entire community,” said Rectanus. “If you ask anyone in that community what STEM is, it’s not about stem cells; it’s about success for their kids.”

Discussion also focused on North Carolina’s graduation rate, post-high school education, and American education’s global ranking. Another panel examined the partnerships between the state’s community college system.

Other keynote speakers included Gov. Bev Perdue, Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, Cynthia Marshall, president of AT&T North Carolina and chair of the N.C. Chamber, and Stan Litow, IBM’s vice president of corporate citizenship and president of the IBM International Foundation.

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