Science Education Crucial for Tomorrow's Water Solutions

As the world faces potential water shortages, new scientists will have to solve the crisis.

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Michael Fields is director of philanthropy at ITT Corp. On January 12, ITT announced its intention to spin off its water and defense businesses into separate publicly traded companies before the end of this year. The new water company, Xylem, will be a leading global provider of residential and commercial products and technologies for water and wastewater, doing business in more than 150 countries.

It is widely accepted that education is society’s most effective means of confronting the challenges of the future, and few challenges are more vexing than the world’s growing water crisis. Conversations during the recent Stockholm World Water Week, an annual conference that convenes more than 2,500 people from 136 countries, reinforced that developing a strong background in STEM-based (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs can and will play a major role in solving urgent water-related issues. Earlier this year, ITT Corp. announced that we will separate into three new entities by the end of 2011, including a new water company, Xylem.

Xylem will continue ITT’s legacy of addressing global water challenges, and supporting STEM education is a major driver behind our commitment.

Corporations have a responsibility to help our nation nurture interest in STEM-oriented careers--namely by reaching youth with the message that science and technology are rewarding career paths, and that future job prospects in these sectors are extremely promising and will influence societal change. One way Xylem is working to build demand for STEM education and careers is through our social investment program, Xylem Watermark. Created to provide and protect safe water resources for communities in need, Watermark also is committed to driving innovation in the water sector by supporting initiatives that inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs, engineers, and scientists. As the international sponsor of the Stockholm Junior Water Prize for the past 15 years and a leading voice in its creation, ITT is challenging some of the world’s brightest young minds to put their STEM skills into action by developing innovative water projects that offer real solutions to one of our world’s greatest problems. Xylem will continue sponsoring the annual global competition going forward.

Thousands of Junior Water Prize participants in more than 30 countries compete for the chance to represent their nations at the international final held during Stockholm World Water Week. This year, award-winning students from Ghana and the Netherlands reconvened at Stockholm World Water Week to share the results of their yearlong collaborative project geared toward bringing safe water to people in need. The two teams met during the 2010 Stockholm Junior Water Prize and, with the support of ITT, Water For People, and Black & Veatch, worked to construct a water system in rural Ghana and explored the use of ozone in disinfecting water at the source, as well as in the containers used to transport it. This is an unprecedented effort by the Ghana and Netherlands teams and represents the first time prize finalists have applied their research in the field to create sustainable and positive change in our global communities.

These students were very focused and anxious about the project’s importance. Yet, they persevered and, with the support from ITT and its partners, were able to construct a system that has the potential to impact thousands of lives in Ghana.

Through initiatives like the Stockholm Junior Water Prize, we can help young people apply the STEM skills they learn in the classroom in the real world, demonstrating the power and promise of careers in water-related science and engineering. As one of the world’s leading manufacturers of pumps, water treatment, recycling, and water infrastructure technology, our support for water education and innovation exemplifies the role the private sector can and should play in solving big problems. And the Stockholm Junior Water Prize is proof that by empowering our youth, we can unlock their potential and ultimately change the future.