DALLAS—To kick off the U.S. News STEM Solutions 2012 summit, basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and a host of science, technology, engineering, and math leaders announced the formation of STEMx, a multi-state network that will help connect policymakers with teachers, business leaders, and STEM organizations.
"[STEM] is a genuine grassroots movement, and this is the first national meeting of this grassroots movement," said Brad Smith, executive vice president and general counsel at Microsoft. "Let's continue to find a way to use our voices to advocate in state capitals and in Washington, D.C., to make the changes we think are needed."
Flying robots helped launch the network, which will start with 13 founding states. Jeffrey Wadsworth, CEO of Battelle Memorial Institute, a sponsor of the movement, says STEMx will allow the states to share "best practices that help complete the job at hand—getting kids into college and into a better life."
"We know it can be done, but how do we make it go viral? How do we make it go bigger and faster and more effectively?" he said.
Those are the questions more than 1,500 people will try to solve this week in Dallas as the United States tries to catch up with global competitors such as China, Finland, and South Korea.
"We know what the future looks like internationally," Wadsworth said. "When we talk about graduation rates to the Chinese, they don't know what the question means—if you get into school in China, you're going to graduate."
And that's where companies have had to turn for employees lately. Smith said Microsoft has more than 5,000 unfilled jobs in America, but no people to fill them. "As a business, we live with the [STEM] problem every day," he said. "What we face is a shortage of people with STEM expertise. We have a skills gap, but unless we close that skills gap, we won't address the unemployment gap we face."
Everyone knows what America's STEM education problems are—employers can't find the talent to fill tech jobs and Americans are increasingly facing unemployment woes—says U.S.News & World Report Editor and Chief Content Officer Brian Kelly. But he's sick of hearing excuses.
"We all know the problem, we're stressing solutions and outcomes," he says. "STEM is a movement of sorts, but it may turn out to be a revolution before this conference is over."
But it'll take everyone, Abdul-Jabbar said: "We'll need multiple players with various strengths and capabilities … teamwork is key."