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To meet the challenge of this generation's "Sputnik moment," President Obama's 2012 budget request includes $3.4 billion for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. The President's "Winning the Future" strategy includes $13 billion in overall investment to stimulate innovation. The many voices calling for more rigorous STEM education in the United States range from the National Academies of Science to the boardrooms of industry, the halls of Congress, and the nation's military leadership.


Because of the accelerating rate of innovation in science and technology—and unsatisfactory U.S. benchmarks on international university (percent of STEM graduates) and K-12 education (math and science scores) performance—STEM represents a major investment President Obama is asking for among other funding trade-offs.


The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) states that primary and secondary (K-12) STEM education should include mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, engineering, environmental science, and geology. PCAST avers that STEM education will help produce the capable and flexible workforce needed to compete in a global marketplace. However, PCAST's narrow classical education definition misses the mark in terms of how STEM fuels innovation.


In the United States, most of the economic growth experienced since the beginning of the 20th century, both nationally and per capita, has resulted from innovations in science and technology. The STEM workforce transcends the mere 5 percent of jobs usually categorized as "STEM" by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For example, arts and "middle-skill" jobs are not typically counted as part of the STEM workforce but require knowledge and understanding of science, technology, engineering, and math:
  1. Of the two million U.S. arts jobs requiring significant technology proficiency, 10 percent are architects; 11 percent are fine artists, art directors, and animators; 7 percent are producers and directors; and 7 percent are photographers. The goods and services produced through these disciplines represent 6.4 percent of the U.S. economy and over $126 billion annually in revenue from foreign trade.

  2. The Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University estimates that approximately seven million "middle-skill" job openings will be filled by workers with associate degrees or occupational certificates between now and 2018. Students who obtain engineering certificates from technical or community colleges earn an average income of $46,596, and those who hold certificates in health-related fields earn a median salary of $46,000.
STEM, therefore, deserves special status in terms of how we define related workforce and educational practice—and thus concomitant funding. Albert Einstein once said, "You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew." If we are to "out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world," as President Obama has proclaimed, we must ask: What is missing in the innovation agenda?


The answer is the arts.


The separation between the arts and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics is artificial and relatively new in human history. All of the disciplines of science, engineering, and mathematics are born of Mother Art, but she has somehow lost touch with her children.


A grassroots movement has emerged, connecting STEM and the arts with acronyms such as TEAMS and STEAM. In South Korea, the ministry of education recently announced that its innovation agenda will be buttressed by investments in STEAM—STEM plus the arts—not just STEM. In the U.S., the National Science Teachers Association and the Arts Education Partnership both have STEM and arts integration on their professional development agendas. Career and technical education (CTE) initiatives in Ohio, Texas, Florida, Maryland, and California are pursuing similar STEAM initiatives to deliver students to higher education and workers to industries ranging from the defense department to Disney.


When Winston Churchill was asked to cut arts funding for the war effort, he asked, "Then what are we fighting for?" Similarly, as we begin this journey of making sacrifices and investing in education and research we should ask questions such as these: What is the role of the arts in innovation? What is the role of the arts in wealth creation? What is the role of the arts in creating jobs? What is the role of the arts in national security? What is the role of the arts in defining who we are as Americans? And, what is the role of the arts in STEM initiatives?


Michael Lesiecki from MATEC Networks at Maricopa Community College (AZ) explains, "Our industry partners are seeking a more entrepreneurial type of knowledge worker, one who understands the creative and innovation processes. I think this is why we need to integrate STEM and the arts." Community college and high school CTE programs should target STEM initiatives including grants to build STEM consortia and networks and to support teacher recruiting and professional development, CTE-STEM-arts integration, and online learning. Special emphasis should be placed on the intersection of network and information technology (NIT) with the arts, cybersecurity, games and simulations, health, energy, transportation, environmental science, physical science, and health science.


Model TEAMS initiatives include Valencia Community College's (FL) arts and entertainment program, Indian River State College (FL), Clark Magnet High School (CA), Orlando Tech's (FL) gaming, and Ohio's TEAMS model. A key differentiator for CTE will be a systems perspective that encompasses the entire process of concept, design, implementation, and operations (CDIO) in relevant technical and engineering programs.


CTE programs should work to organize knowledge into a system-of-systems similar to Maricopa Community College's eSyst—a model for emerging systems technician programs that are displacing antiquated electronics programs. For more, see the websites of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology CDIO program, the Society for Design and Process Science, and the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering.


CTE programs should emphasize middle-to-high- skill workforce education and, where possible, should adopt practices, professional development, and curricula supported by NSF's Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program. Learn more about these high-rigor CTE-STEM programs at the upcoming HI-TEC conference, NSF ATE program grant site, and ATE Centers online.
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Jim Brazell is a technology forecaster, public speaker, and strategist who focuses on innovation and transformation. He will deliver the keynote address at the opening general session of the 2011 NCPN conference in Orlando, Florida, October 12–14. For more information, contact Jim at http://www.jimbrazell.com.