By Paula Paige, Office of Naval Research
ARLINGTON, Va.--Challenged by statistics showing that only 31 percent of U.S. undergraduate students pursue technical degrees, and only a third of those come from under-represented populations, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) has launched an effort to build a diverse future workforce for the naval needs in science and technology.
Called STEM2Stern, the first of a series of dialogues exploring ways to identify and attract young scientists kicked off Sept. 3 at ONR´s Arlington headquarters. Increasing the science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, pipeline has become a critical priority for ONR in its role as the U.S. Navy´s science and technology provider, the organization´s leaders told key stakeholders at the event.
"Without a steady stream of scientists and engineers, the Navy´s ability to maintain its science and technology superiority will falter over time," said Dr. Walter F. Jones, ONR´s executive director. "Over the next six months, we will explore potential STEM initiatives to identify and attract these young scientists and engineers. As stakeholders, we will participate in developing solutions for building ONR´s workforce for the future."
The dialogue, held with a multitude of stakeholders within the Navy, explored STEM best practices and ideas for how to develop and attract a high-caliber and diverse STEM workforce.
U.S. Census Bureau data projects that by 2050, more than 50 percent of the population will comprise ethnic groups, which are traditionally under-represented in science and engineering, Dr. Sujata Millick, acting director of research for ONR, said. "Approaches to tapping the brightest minds for naval science and technology must account for this demographic shift and include ways to create excitement about science and careers in science and engineering."
The STEM2Stern dialogues will examine the types of programs, the key intervention points, the role of mentoring and approaches to encourage under-represented populations to choose STEM education and careers.
"Science is not just a textbook endeavor," Millick said. "We need to consider the excitement factor, both for STEM education and of research to naval disciplines."
Dr. Jim Rohr was among the consortium of STEM2Stern attendees representing educational institutions, the science and technology community and naval organizations. Director of educational outreach programs for the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific Facility, Rohr said the event was an opportunity to brainstorm with those in the science and technology community about ways to make what some see as a geeky career field into a cool one.
"We want to create a path for young students--middle school, high school, college, then a job in the Navy," said Rohr, who oversees his organization´s kindergarten through 12th-grade outreach program and liaises with local colleges. "ONR historically has some of these pieces, such as summer internships for high school and college students. I have this feeling that STEM professionals are piece of the puzzle. We need to empower them to step up. Our best advertisement is to give people a chance to come and kick the tires. To understand our work environment and want to be a part of that."
With the dialogues under way, ONR leaders said STEM2Stern will eventually grow into a formal program that will identify, mentor and develop students from kindergarten through college, who will eventually land STEM jobs within the Naval Research Enterprise.
"We have to ask ourselves, ´Where does it make sense for the Navy to invest?´" said Dr. Anthony Junior, ONR education programs manager, who attended the event. Junior, who also manages the historically black colleges and universities minority institutions program for the Navy and Marine Corps, said "We are forcing people to look long range. We shouldn´t necessarily look at today´s demographic when recruiting tomorrow´s STEM workforce."