Event Summary: The Next Generation of Earth System Education


On Earth Day 2013, Monday, April 22nd, a panel of Geo-science, technology, engineering and mathematics Master Teachers convened at the Wilson Center to discuss several innovative endeavors to engage teachers and students in Earth science studies using state-of-the art technologies and education resources.  The event was co-hosted by the Program on America and the Global Economy (PAGE) and the Global Sustainability and Resilience Program.  The event was moderated by Kent Hughes, Director of PAGE.


John Moore, Director of Geo-science STEM Education at Palmyra Cove Nature Park and Environmental Discovery Center in New Jersey, former Albert Einstein Distinguished Education Fellow, and Executive Director for the American Council of STEM Teachers opened the panel discussion by pointing out two very important and influential opportunities for reform in STEM education: the PCAST Report to the President on plans for improvements in K-12 STEM education released on September 15, 2010 and the recently released Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) report which outlines the new voluntary, rigorous, and internationally benchmarked standards for K-12 science education.  Moore emphasized the importance of, “developing the teachers’ voice,” providing several examples of projects for leadership and professional development of teachers such as the DataStreme Project, a distance learning course designed by the American Meteorological Society,  and Global Learning and Observation to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE), a worldwide network for sharing resources for primary and secondary earth science education.


Marcia Barton spoke next about the opportunities and challenges for STEM educators.  She agreed that the NGSS report provided an opportunity to transform science in the United States by integrating the sciences instead of using current standards of teaching the sciences separately.  The NGSS report also elevated earth and space science, including them more in the proposed curriculum.  The challenges for geo-science, according to Barton, were taking advantage of this increased focus and engaging the students in this material, and training the next generation of teachers.  She proposed starting an academy for innovation and sustainability to engage students in geo-science and engineering, especially with the increase in job opportunities for geoscientists.  Based on President Obama’s initiative to prepare 100,000 new STEM teachers in the next decade, Barton suggested making 30,000 of those earth and space system science teachers.


Vicky Gorman discussed efforts to promote geo-science education in her community with the Citizen Science Education Program (CSEP).  CSEP was designed by middle school students and tailored for their own community.  The program seeks to increase scientific literacy within the community and is part of the Weather Ready Nation network, a NOAA initiative.  Gorman stressed the importance of communication and leadership skills within students to prepare them for the workforce, with development of those skills starting in middle school.  She stated, “Unless students are marketable, all their education goes to waste.”  Gorman emphasized the importance of geo-science education as it encompasses chemistry, physics, and biology and applies to real-life situations and the global economy and where our workforce needs to be.

Peter Dorofy commented on the technology challenges of teaching earth science.  Traditionally, earth science is a non-lab course but with increasing technological advances such as GPS, GIS, remote sensing, and real-time data, that is changing.  He spoke of the challenges at his technical college in New Jersey, such as budget cuts and shifting programs, and how to make earth science relevant to students who have already chosen a career.  Dorofy stated it was key to identify real-life situations in which earth science can be applied and to take advantage of all the technology in the field to excite students.

John Moore recapped the first part of the panel and reiterated that teachers have a unique opportunity to push earth science.   The problem is in implementation.  Moore stated that in many schools the 1996 NGS Standards are barely implemented today, therefore, the responsibility will lie with the next generation of teachers to ensure that these new standards are realized.


Kevin Simmons and Jin Kang explained new technology in the geoSTEM field: cubesats, microsatellites, which are powerful, interactive tools that can be used by schools to provide data from space.  Cubesats introduce children to systems engineering and allow them to put the engineering method, which Simmons distinguished from the scientific method, into practice.  Kang emphasized the two essential factors of effective education: motivation and hands-on education which are key to encouraging creativity and innovation.

The panel responded to audience questions about the integrity of the geoSTEM programs, differences between the U.S. and Korean education systems, and the new common core standards and standardized testing.

Drafted by Elizabeth White

Click here to view the video recording of this event.


NASCAR: Helping STEM Education Race Forward

One surprising (or not so surprising, it turns out) partner in the effort to promote STEM education in our nation is NASCAR. The famous National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is bringing students from across the country to its speedway in Daytona to compete in mini-races of their own. Students have the opportunity to design and build their own cars for the grand prix competition while learning about engineering, math, and science. The goal of these initiatives is to get American youth to connect on a personal and academic level to STEM education through having fun and seeing how these skills apply in real life.

Having students pursue studies in STEM is not only a benefit for the individual but also for America: as seen in PAGE’s past report on the need for skilled labor in our manufacturing sector, skills in science, technology, engineering, and math represent an important investment in keeping our workforce competitive and relevant in the global labor market. Says Christine DeMichael, NASCAR senior manager of consumer marketing, “We are really focused on where our next engineers and team members will come from. Hands-on programs like this tie the science to something they can actually touch and feel and be a part of.” Likewise, NASCAR managing director of research and development Mike Fisher confirms “STEM education programs are critical to the future of our country and tie very well back into our sport.”

“Ten80 Education Student Racing Challenge: NASCAR STEM Initiative” is one such program, bringing over 100 students from six high schools and middle schools in the Concord, North Carolina area together to learn, test their skills, and have fun in an innovative way. Not only do many participants attribute their interest in math and science to the Student Racing Challenge, but they can also see the exciting career options where these skills are desired. Certainly, NASCAR and other American companies may be reaping the rewards of this investment in the future!

Posted by: Sophia Higgins

Sources: NASCAR, STEM Connector

Photo credit: Solar Sprint 2010 @ Argonne National Laboratory’s photostream courtesy of Flickr user Argonne National Laboratory

Americans Take Home the Nobel Prize in Economics, Again

On Monday, October 15th the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced the winners of final Nobel Prize of the year, Alvin E. Roth of Harvard University and Lloyd Shapley of UCLA. The two economists were honored for their complementary work on “market design” and “matching theory”, theories which have practical uses in matching everything from students and schools to kidneys and transplant patients. The telephone call alerting the winners was “very unexpected, not unimaginable” for Roth, a professor currently teaching at Stanford who still taught class the morning after the Prize was announced.

Dubbed a form of “economic engineering” by the committee, these celebrated theories are derived from a free market approach which allows demand and supply to bring consumers and producers together to begin the stable allocation process for a good. This work is expanded upon by the professors by introducing market designs mimicking the free market into real-world situations. In fact, their theories are components in software programs that have been used as models for school choice process in New Orleans, Boston, and New York. Hospitals are also employing their matching theory in matching incompatible kidney donors with compatible pairs to form a market swap that benefits both parties. This intuitive system is incredibly useful in streamlining and simplifying the matching process into an algorithm and has the potential to aid in virtually any situation where a pair is needed.

Roth and Shapley mark the second year in a row of American winners of this prize.  2011 awardees Thomas J. Sargent of New York University and Christopher A. Sims of Princeton University were honored for their research on a cause-and-effect relationship between government and economic policy. Certainly, both theories have practical implications for American life and offer important insights into economic choices made every day in the lives of American citizens. Perhaps these winnings will even encourage more American students to pursue studies in STEM education and the sciences.  In the words of Roth, “I’m sure when I go to the class this morning my students will pay more attention.”

Posted by Sophia Higgins

Sources: Wall Street Journal, Reuters, CNN, Nobel Prize.org

Photo source: Nobel-Prize @ Mediocre2010’s photostream courtesy of Flickr user Mediocre2010

STEM Visa Bill Defeated in Congress but Debate Goes On

One of the most talked about measures to improve the competitiveness of the United States in the area of technology and innovation is the STEM Jobs Bill. On September 20th, the bill, put forth by Republican Congressman Lamar Smith of Texas, was defeated in the House, failing to receive two thirds of the votes.

The Bill would enable 55,000 students with a doctorate or a master’s degree in one of the STEM subjects to apply for a Green Card upon graduation. If enacted, the STEM Jobs Bill would have discontinued the Diversity Visa Program, or Green Card Lottery, which currently allocates 55,000 Green Cards to people from countries with low levels of immigration to the United States. The Bill was struck down mostly by Democrats unwilling to eliminate the Diversity Visa Program. Two more bills are on the table, one by Democratic Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren of California, the other by Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York. Both of these bills aim to keep the Diversity Visa Program alive while introducing the STEM Visa program simultaneously.

Politicians on both sides, as well as heads of industry all agree that something needs to be done in order to not lose highly educated workers to other countries. Without the ability to stay and work in the United States, these foreign students are forced to leave and end up working for companies overseas. These students are especially important to the future of the US economy because of the low rates of American students who decide to go in to science and engineering, only about 5% of graduates.

Solving the issue of talent leaving the US will be essential in order to ensure America’s continual success in leading the world in technology and innovation in the 21st century. If Congress can manage to cooperate across the aisle and reach a compromise, the STEM Jobs Bill would supply hi-tech companies with much needed workers and boost the US economy.

Progress is being made, but a lot more has to be done in order for the United States to reverse the current trend of lagging behind other countries in competitiveness. Ultimately, the problem of American students lacking interest in studying science and engineering has to be tackled in order to ensure future prosperity.

Posted by: Samuel Benka

Sources: Forbes, Politico, The Huffington Post

Photo Credit: US Capitol Courtesy of Flickr user katieharbath

Prospects for a “STEM Teacher Master Corps”

In late July, the Obama administration announced a plan to create a “STEM Teacher Master Corps”, a corps of teachers specializing in science and math fields who would lead community and local efforts to improve STEM education in schools.  The teachers would be chosen by local school officials to “lead professional development [courses], mentorship activities, and  regularly contribute new lesson plans and strategies to transform and improve science and math teaching,” in exchange for a $20,000 per year bonus, according to Robert Rodriguez, a special assistant to President Obama for education.  The program would start with 50 selected teachers and expand to 10,000 in four years.  The program was originally recommended in a 2010 report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

The White House, along with the administration’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, has consistently emphasized the importance of the STEM fields in the overall approach to education in the 21st century.  “If America is going to compete for the jobs and industries of tomorrow, we need to make sure our children are getting the best education possible,” Obama said in a statement. “Teachers matter, and great teachers deserve our support.”  Sec. Duncan pointed out that American students lag behind most other industrialized countries, including China, South Korea, Japan, and  most  of Europe in the STEM fields.

The program is dependent on funding from Congress and comes with a $1 billion price tag, making its prospects questionable at best.  The money is included in Obama’s 2013 budget request being considered by Congress.  Democrats tried to secure funding for a similar program last year, but the proposal did not reach the House or Senate floors.  Both Sec. Duncan and the White House emphasized the bipartisan recognition that progress is needed in STEM for American competitiveness and that local and state support for such a program is essential but they may be overestimating how far that bipartisan consensus will take them.  An aide to Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, told the Associated Press, the federal government already has more than 80 teacher quality programs and questioned the wisdom of pouring more money into another program that might not add anything new — or effective — to improve education.  Further, the announcement comes on the heels of a House Appropriations sub-committee vote approving a bill that would dismantle three key elements of Obama’s education reform plan: Race To The Top, the School Improvement Grant program, and the Investing In Innovation (i3)  program.

Posted by: Sean Norris

Sources: NBC News, US News and World Report, The Atlantic

Photo Credit:Science Lab” courtesy of flickr user Jose Kevo

STEM Majors are the Smartest Bet for College Students

More and more students are graduating from college with massive debt.  This problem is compounded by a historically weak labor market for recent graduates.  Using government labor data, the Associated Press found about  1.5 million, or 53.6 percent, of bachelor’s degree-holders under the age of 25 last year were jobless or underemployed, the highest share in at least 11 years.  Young adults with bachelor’s degrees are frequently being forced into low-paying, low-skill service jobs (e.g. waiter, bartender, retail clerk or receptionist), making the debt they graduated with harder and harder to cope with. 

It is important to note that according to the data, prospects vary significantly based on the type of degree a student graduates with.  Those with degrees in the arts or humanities such as philosophy, art history, etc. were the least likely to find jobs and the percentage of unemployment or underemployment for students with those majors was even higher.

On the flip side, Forbes reports degrees in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math) are the most likely to land a job right out of school and yield the highest median pay both starting out and over the course of their careers.  An amazing 94% of recent graduates with STEM degrees found employment after college.  These students are increasingly in demand and as a result not only find jobs, but well-paying ones.  STEM graduates are most likely to field multiple competitive offers and over a lifetime, their earnings are as much as 50 percent higher than the earnings of those who major in the humanities, the arts, or education.

So why, in the face of all this data, do only 16% of college students graduate with a STEM degree?  Many are simply not very proficient in math and science in high school and as a result have no interest in those fields at the college level.  According to a study of high school students performed by the Business-Higher Education Forum in December, only 17 percent of high school seniors were both proficient in math and interested in the STEM fields and many— 27 percent — weren’t interested in math or science degrees even if they were proficient.  The study concluded “Current interest in STEM fields and proficiency in math are not sufficient to meet U.S. workforce demand.”

Posted by: Sean Norris

Sources: The Associated Press, Forbes, The Washington Post

Photo Credit: STEM 2010-01-30 064 courtesy of flickr user skeggy

TOMORROW- You are Invited and Live Webcast-The Start-up Act: Building America’s Entrepreneurial Future

The Program on America and the Global Economy Presents:

 The Start-up Act: Building America’s Entrepreneurial Future

 Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Joseph and Claire Flom Auditorium, 6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center


 8:30 a.m.

Registration and Continental Breakfast

 9:00-9:45 a.m.

Keynote Address:

Senator Jerry Moran, Kansas

Senator Mark Warner, Virginia

 9:45 a.m.-12:00 p.m.

 Panel Discussion:

Paula Collins, Vice President, Government Relations, Texas Instruments Incorporated

Toby Smith, Vice President for Policy, Association of American Universities

Audrey Singer, Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution

 Moderated by: Kent Hughes, Director, Program on America and the Global Economy


Senators Warner and Moran will discuss key components of their Start-up Act, which they authored and introduced.  A panel discussion will follow with an examination of the prospects of accelerating the commercialization of university research, increasing opportunities for immigrants with advanced STEM (science, technology, engineering, and Mathematics) degrees and adding a STEM category for immigrant investors seeking permanent residence.


Please RSVP acceptances only to page@wilsoncenter.org

Watch the live webcast here.

Directions to the Wilson Center: www.wilsoncenter.org/directions