At the defense company Northrop Grumman, there has been a strategy shift from simple donations to actual involvement in building STEM education from the ground up, said CEO Wes Bush.
"Simply writing checks doesn't play anymore," Bush said at the 2012 U.S. News STEM Solutions Summit. "We're focusing on partnerships that are active and cover the full spectrum of education."
Instead of supporting nonprofit organizations that work to further Northrop Grumman's goals, the company has started actively participating with universities to design curricula that can help fill the company's employment needs.
Earlier this month, the company announced it was starting a cybersecurity program with the University of Maryland—College Park that will allow students to get on-the-job training while they're still in school.
"We actually have students engage in our business as they're going through this curriculum, bringing them directly into Northrop Grumman," he said. "We think it's going to create competition, where we'll eventually have to fight for these students."
Ideally, a host of businesses will start similar programs suited to their specific needs, allowing companies to target students before they're even in school. Close collaboration with universities and the promise of a potential job after graduation will help keep students in STEM majors during their first two years, when many students wander off into other fields of study.
"These partnerships are very involved by both parties. We're establishing programs that deliver measurable results to answer specific industry needs," he said. "We've designed a curriculum that will keep students interested and engaged during those first two years of college, which are absolutely critical."
He said partnerships such as the one with the University of Maryland could become an important pipeline for skilled workers.
"We know how intractable the STEM problem has seemed for all these years," he said. "Well, we have tools and we can take actions to make partnerships that are collaborative, strategic, and proactive."