Local Tech Wire STEM News

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – North Carolina is uniquely positioned to lead the nation in education reform, especially in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), says IBM’s Stanley Litow.

Litow is president of the and vice president of IBM Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs. He oversees numerous philanthropic initiatives at IBM, but his passion lies in education.

“What’s unique in North Carolina is the degree to which leaders have consensus,” Litow says. “In many states, the political, business, and education leadership is divided. What’s unique about North Carolina is that the consensus has already been developed.”

Litow should know.

As former deputy chancellor of the New York City School system, he has been involved with many of the epic education battles of the past 20 years; including charter schools, curriculum, and the length of the school day.

During a recent phone interview, Litow expanded on the remarks he made two weeks ago at the N.C. Chamber Education Summit in Durham. He said advancing STEM education will require new, inventive approaches that can easily be scaled to meet local, state, and national needs.

Litow pointed out that changing STEM education can’t be done at just the local level. For example, he said trying to encourage young people to consider STEM careers means extending education to get those degrees, but the drop-out rate is very high – especially among minority students.

“Solving that problem can’t be done without cooperation among K-12 educators, community colleges, business leaders, and others,” Litow added. “Some interesting things are being done on the local level but to ramp them up will require major innovative change.

“It’s hit or miss for many local programs,” he continued. “The difficulty has often been getting programs to scale.”

Litow emphasized the role business can play in filling gaps in STEM education. One successful program is IBM’s Transition to Teaching, which trains recently retired IBMers for second careers as STEM teachers.

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that more than 260,000 new math and science teachers are needed right now. Simultaneously, 76 million baby boomers are approaching traditional retirement age, with many reporting they plan to continue working in fields where they can give back to their communities.

IBM launched Transition to Teaching in the United States in 2006. Today, 100 IBMers are participating in the program and recently expanded to Great Britain, where it has garnered favorable support from the Prime Minister’s Office.

“In a wide range of areas, people are no longer interested in a traditional retirement,” Litow said. “People look at a 10-to 15-year second-career window, and Transition to Teaching is a good way to help with that.”

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