STEM Heavy Hitters Close Out U.S. News Conference

Summit ends with notes of hope, pledges to do what’s necessary to fix crisis in education.

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DALLAS—Over the course of three days and more than 30 panels, experts talked about the science, technology, engineering, and math education crisis in the United States—but the final panel was easily the most impassioned and lively of them all, with STEM education's heavy hitters finally getting their chance to weigh in.

"I think you'd agree we saved the best for last," U.S. News Editor Brian Kelly said. "STEM is a community we're trying to create. It's a community, and this is the board of directors."

The Hall of Fame panel reiterated much of what had been said over the past few days at the 2012 U.S. News STEM Solutions Summit—that America needs to train more STEM teachers and pay them better, private-public partnerships between businesses and schools are the way forward, and universities have to find a way to keep engineering students from dropping out.

"Two thirds of the students that enter college as an engineering major switch majors, and we assume that's OK," said Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland—Baltimore County. "They say that the first year of science and engineering is made up of weed-out courses. I'd argue that it does not have to be that way."

Overall, the speakers' messages were ones of hope—Tom Luce, director of the National Math + Science Institute, said everyone knows there are pockets of STEM success all around the nation, but it's time to stop championing small pilot programs and to start scaling them up.

"We've got to focus on finding the few things that work and scale them up across the country. … Corporations like to fund [small programs that produce] 1,000 flowers that bloom. Well, that doesn't produce scale," Luce said. 

Richard Alley, a geosciences professor at Pennsylvania State University—University Park and host of PBS's EARTH: The Operators Manual, agreed.

"Every pilot program works, because they get funding, because there's somebody behind it," he said, adding that to get students interested in STEM, America has to hold up successful engineers as idols. "How many of our students in third, sixth, or ninth grade know they want to be like [former Lockheed Martin CEO] Norm Augustine when they grow up? We've got to get the truth out there—that this is the way to success, that this works, that this is cool."

If you missed the live stream of the panel, check back Monday, when a full video will be available—it's a must-watch.