Here’s a tough math problem: How do you increase the number of
Americans in science, technology, engineering and math careers when
Baby Boomers currently in these jobs are starting to retire and young
people are losing interest in these subjects?

That’s the problem facing our country today. Science and technology
are the bedrock of the global economy, and according to business and
labor statistics, employment in these areas will increase about 70
percent faster than the rate for all occupations. So, it’s bad timing
that today’s students are not demonstrating the necessary levels of
interest or proficiency in math and science to fill these technological

American students are great at math compared with their
international peers – in elementary school. However, by the time they
reach middle school, only 32 percent are at or above a proficient level
in math, according to the 2007 Nation’s Report Card by the National
Assessment of Educational Progress, and they fall behind

Part of the reason for this decline in math skills is the stigma
associated with excelling in math and science. Promising young students
are often hesitant to achieve when good grades can earn them labels of
“geek” and “nerd.” In addition to peer pressure, many lack the role
models to demonstrate the value of a math education and how it can
prepare them for success. Even the success of ubergeek Bill Gates has
not really reversed this trend.

Middle-school students need our attention. We need to nurture and
support students’ math abilities during these critical grades, before
negative peer pressure takes hold. We need to provide them with
suitable role models and show them the practical application of math in
their lives.

New media tools are one way to reach them. This age group needs to
have the wonders of math reinforced outside of school, on their terms,
in a medium such as the Internet. They need to see how math is related
to their interests, such as music, fashion or sports. They need to see
that math can be fun, and that math can lead to scholarships and
rewarding careers.

Diversity also needs to be a focus. According to the Census Bureau,
minorities account for one-third of U.S. residents, and that proportion
is expected to be close to half of all U.S. residents by 2050. In
addition, women now outnumber men on college campuses, but in too many
engineering programs, women still make up less than 20 percent of the
students. To solve our math problem, science, technology, engineering
and math professions need to be attractive and welcoming to all talent

Governments and academia are doing their part in providing new
funding, curricula, and better tools and training for teachers. Yet
they cannot solve this problem alone. U.S. businesses must do their
part. They can leverage their expertise in areas like marketing and new
media to support inventive programs, and provide passionate employee
role models to spark and sustain interest in scientific education and
careers among children of all ages.

Middle school, diversity rules, role models and new media tools –
that is how we in America’s business community can help address our
national math problem.

Source: Arizona Republic, AZ –