SANTA CLARA, Calif.--Laura Mather does her part to polish the tarnished image of engineers in America. She speaks at schools about her job producing software that guards banks and other businesses from cyber attacks.
“I tell them my job is really ‘CSI Computer’--its fun and awesome,” she says, riffing on the popular TV crime show series. “We are looking for bad guys,” says the co-founder of Silver Tail Systems, now part of EMC Corp.
Garrett Johnson does his part, too. The African-American chief executive of SendHub likes to disabuse his nephews of their blind adulation for professional basketball stars.
“I tell them if you made a pie of all the money earned from the five founders of Facebook and the five top NBA players, the Facebook founders would make up 98.5 percent of that pie,” he said, speaking at a panel discussion sponsored by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.
Both tech execs know the U.S. lags many other countries in science, math, engineering and technology education, aka STEM. And both know one of the root causes of that fact is that engineers are generally held in low regard in America, typically stereotyped as geeks and nerds.
“We need more role models who show science as high status, said Rebecca Blank, deputy secretary of commerce in the Obama Administration, speaking on the panel. “We need to send more messages that validate science as a career track,” she said.
Blank knows the figures well. Some thirteen percent of U.S. college grads have degrees in STEM fields compared to 25 to 30 percent in Germany and South Korea, she said.
The problem is even worse among females. Women make up half the U.S. workforce but less than 25 percent of the STEM workers and grads, Blank said. Changing attitudes in K-6 education is the key, she added.
Blank called on the private sector to do more by funding more STEM teachers, providing more internships and getting more engaged with local schools. “People have to live it a little bit,” she said.
Government has played an active role in the past, noted Aart de Geus, chief executive of Synopsys. “In the Kennedy era, the government was saying we have to go to moon—a strange goal in some ways--but out of this came a generation of investment in schools and technology--but more importantly the notion that science is cool,” he said on the panel.
The private sector tries to do its part. “At every science fair we attend our goal is to see how many young people we can make feel science is cool,” de Geus said.
Their discussion sparked me to ask, what are you doing to show science is cool?
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