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Putting STEM to Work

June, 13 2018

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In June, Communities Foundation of Texas and our Educate Texas initiative co-hosted “Cause-Minded Conversation: Putting STEM to Work,” a special panel discussion with the Toyota USA Foundation at the Toyota North America headquarters, to bring more attention to STEM needs locally. Like CFT, Toyota USA Foundation has a long history of supporting STEM education efforts. 

Panelists included:

  • Andres Alcantar, Chairman, Texas Workforce Commission
  • Michael Medalla, Manager, Toyota USA Foundation
  • Dr. Neil Matkin, President, Collin College
  • Alfreda Norman, Senior Vice President, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas
  • Monica Egert Smith, Chief Relationship Officer, Communities Foundation of Texas
  • George Tang, Managing Director, Educate Texas

The importance of STEM education goes beyond helping students reach their potential—it’s a means for regions to strengthen their economies. U.S. Department of Labor employment projections over the next decade indicate that of the 20 fastest-growing occupations, 15 of them require significant mathematics or science preparation.

Dave Scullin, CFT president and CEO, noted that it is in businesses’ best interest to support STEM education initiatives like those in place at Educate Texas, an innovative public-private partnership established by CFT. The organization and its partners all share a common goal: improving the public education system so that every Texas student is prepared for success in school, in the workforce, and in life. Further inspired by the state’s recognition that 60 percent of Texans ages 25 to 34 years old will need a postsecondary credential to be gainfully employed by 2030, Educate Texas’ work is even more urgent.

George Tang, managing director for Educate Texas, shared that, “STEM is about how individual students work independently and with others, analyze information, synthesize it into coherent thoughts, and then distill it into something meaningful that they can take action on. STEM is no longer just about science, technology, engineering and math—what it should really stand for is ‘Successful in Today’s Evolving Marketplace’—because that’s what it has evolved into here in Texas and across the country.”

Throughout the panel, both alarming and hopeful data points were shared regarding local education.

The Alarming

Out of our state’s 5.5 million public education students, 60 percent are economically disadvantaged. These students often lack exposure to STEM and an understanding of its relevance to their current paths and future careers. Educate Texas and partners are looking to counteract that by starting STEM exposure and immersion much earlier, in elementary and middle school.

The panel stressed the importance of providing support for students from cradle to career. Michael Medalla of the Toyota USA Foundation encouraged more comprehensive partnerships across sectors, highlighting how the Toyota USA Foundation has provided capacity building and expertise in addition to philanthropic dollars.

Attention was also drawn to the imperativeness of providing wraparound services and a 360-degree approach to levers that affect successful educational outcomes, such as access to transportation, affordable housing, healthcare and childcare. “If we tackle these issues together, we can truly make a difference for our students, our families and our community,” said Medalla.

Andres Alcantar agreed that partnership is key and encouraged those interested in helping to provide students with early opportunities for mentoring and career guidance. “When students work with company employees and mentors, they begin to see and believe what’s possible for them and think about building their own career pathway.”

The Hopeful

Tang shared some major recent STEM successes, particularly for low-income, first-generation students who are achieving postsecondary enrollment and degree attainment. In 2012, Educate Texas partnered with Texas Instruments to pilot the nation’s first district-wide STEM initiative in Lancaster ISD, a district in Southern Dallas County of 7,500 students where nearly 90 percent of the student population is economically disadvantaged. 

Over the past six years, TI and Educate Texas’ investment of $7 million has transformed the district. Growth in math scores outpaced state growth for peer populations by 12 percent. In the most recent academic year, 8th grade math improved by 26 percent—four times the growth in the state and far outpacing other Dallas County schools. Additionally impressive, families are moving back into Lancaster and the student population has grown two times more than other Dallas area districts. TI and Educate Texas recently announced a new $4.6 million investment in Richardson ISD.

The panel also encouraged advocacy supporting STEM. 

“We need to keep pace with innovation in the workplace. We need to support policies that accelerate models that work for employers to offer applied learning opportunities and credentials, especially in our rural and urban areas, as it will pay huge dividends for our students,” said Alcantar.

It takes the collective efforts of businesses, philanthropists, educators and concerned citizens to make a lasting difference. As Al Smith, group vice president, social innovation at Toyota Motor North America, said in his opening remarks, “We are better when we are working together to achieve change. Our challenge is to create a sustainable, positive future for our students, teachers and communities.”

Will you join us?

stempanel.PNG
Panelists discussed the merits of STEM education.

“STEM is no longer just about science, technology, engineering and math—what it should really stand  for is ‘Successful in Today’s Evolving Marketplace.’” —George Tang

To view the live stream from this event, to read additional media coverage or view event photos, visit www.cftexas.org/putting-stem-to-work

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