Intel might be Ohio's 'Sputnik.' Why we need more science in schools | Opinion

·4 min read

The impact of Intel’s investment on STEM education in Central Ohio cannot be overstated.

Much like the launch of Sputnik catalyzed our successful first manned mission to the moon, the magnitude and scope of this tech giant’s presence will forever change the tone and tenor of our conversations around STEM education and its unique importance for generations to come.

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But what is STEM, and why is there so much excitement about how Intel’s investment will impact STEM education for the region?

How does STEM Work?

Hayden Johnson, left, Madison Ingram, center, and Bridget O'Reilly work on a hot air balloon project in their Women in STEM club during lunch at Bexley High School.
Hayden Johnson, left, Madison Ingram, center, and Bridget O'Reilly work on a hot air balloon project in their Women in STEM club during lunch at Bexley High School.

STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) broadly defined, is a movement to raise the bar for math and science education, and better align the pipeline from K-12 through the post-secondary experience.

There have been wide variations in how STEM has been viewed as an approach to education reform including designing new curriculum, enhancing professional development for math and science teachers and school leaders, infusing technology into the classroom, and providing hands-on, real experiences for students.

The promise of STEM education is the creation of a literate citizenry capacity across scientific and math disciplines to support the needs of a 21st century science and technology-dependent society.

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Science has been recognized as the cornerstone to industry, economic development and national prosperity. While the promise of STEM is there, the country, as a whole, has been slow to realize it. As the global science engine moves forward, America’s science program is highly dependent on foreign expertise.

A quick look at how American K-12 students perform in science and mathematics compared to other nations begins to shed light on the matter.

Math and science education: U.S. is behind the world

Although there has been some improvement in recent years, U.S. students are consistently behind other nations (sometimes ranking as low as the 20s or 30s) on the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) and TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) math and science exams.

Area middle school students attended a welding course and chemistry class during the C-TEC Summer STEM Camp at C-TEC, Career and Technology Education Centers of Licking County in Newark, Ohio on July 14, 2022. The teams who attended the camp learned about manufacturing, teamwork, and local production facilities in the area.
Area middle school students attended a welding course and chemistry class during the C-TEC Summer STEM Camp at C-TEC, Career and Technology Education Centers of Licking County in Newark, Ohio on July 14, 2022. The teams who attended the camp learned about manufacturing, teamwork, and local production facilities in the area.

This is also true when focusing on professional arenas such as biotechnology and engineering where the United States, as a whole, is consistently behind other competing nations.

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In addition, the national shortage of scientists and engineers is impacted by the retirement of Baby Boomers as well as some Generation Xers adopting early-exit options from the workforce.

And with regard to diversity in the STEM ecosystem, the numbers are not strong.

STEM education must be accessible to all

The National Science Foundation routinely publishes that underrepresented groups make up, on average, less than 4% of graduates with STEM Ph.D.s and in certain fields the numbers can drop to as low as 1%.

When layered on top of the nation’s diversity population numbers, the massive loss of potential workforce becomes drastically apparent.

The STEM workforce in the U.S. remains far below its potential. The need is clear that the U.S. has to significantly develop more scientists, engineers and technically trained individuals.

Effectively implementing science education and literacy both in schools and throughout informal settings, all the while providing engaging, hands-on, immersive STEM opportunities for students, will contribute to encouraging more students to pursue careers in science.

Musician and Syracuse University student Rufus Sivaroshan, center, teaches children doing audio engineering training at Step Ahead Tech, a a free, volunteer-run summer camp for children of immigrants that is focused on STEM subjects and soft skills that will prepare them for the job market.
Musician and Syracuse University student Rufus Sivaroshan, center, teaches children doing audio engineering training at Step Ahead Tech, a a free, volunteer-run summer camp for children of immigrants that is focused on STEM subjects and soft skills that will prepare them for the job market.

Key to all of this is accessibility.

All students, regardless of zip code or socioeconomic status, should have access to these transformative STEM education opportunities. And when this is realized, we reach a larger denominator and therefore have a higher likelihood of producing more scientists and engineers.

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Intel’s investment in this region provides many opportunities to help address these needs.

By building its largest manufacturing plant in Central Ohio, Intel can leverage the fantastic community of colleges, universities, research institutes, informal education spaces and beyond to impact STEM education and provide a pipeline for science and tech industry demands.

This regional network of STEM-leaning educational institutions anchored by the resources, capacity and interests of Intel will create an unparalleled STEM education ecosystem primed to support science and engineering excitement, STEM literacy and capacity, and moreover, contribute to addressing our nation’s STEM workforce needs.

Intel may yet be our next Sputnik. As the Enterprise Captain, Jean-Luc Picard, was fond of saying, let us “make it so.”

Frederic Bertley is president and CEO of the Center of Science and Industry (COSI).

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Opinion: Improving STEM education important to create Intel workforce