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Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology: A Clarion Call

Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology: A Clarion CallJust as the terrorist attacks on American soil have served as a clarion call to galvanize our nation’s resolve to eradicate terrorism on a global basis, we need a similar clarion call in the eradication of educational barriers in order to meet this nation’s work-force needs, particularly in the areas of science, engineering and technology.
It is virtually certain that increasing numbers of individuals will reach adulthood underprepared for life in the 21st century. The manner in which we confront this reality will decide the future of our nation. It is an urgent matter because the majority of population growth is occurring among groups that are presently underprepared and underrepresented in science, math, engineering and technology programs. These are particularly students of color, who, in general, graduate from high school and college at much lower rates than their peers.
The recent report regarding the systematic marginalization of women scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is exemplary of the penalty we pay as a nation (see Black Issues, April 11, 2002). We have to ask the following: Who does science actually influence? Who pursues science as a career? What is studied and how? What are the conclusions drawn? In a 1996 report “Shaping the Future,” the National Science Foundation stated “unless (science, mathematics, engineering and technology) education is much more inclusive than it has been in the past, we will (continue to deny) ourselves as a society the talents of the majority of our population. This is an intolerable situation — it is both morally wrong and economically foolish.”
Today, we need to view this challenge as a “field of dreams” — if we have the resolve to build it, all will participate. We do not need further analysis, further data and information. However, we do need brave leaders in government, the community, business and pre-K through doctoral education. We need leaders who recognize the shortsightedness of a dependency on H-1B visas. We need leaders who can clearly explain strategies, manage change, inspire innovations and enhance performance, and who accept responsibility for achieving results and for the sustainability of hard-won improvements.
Ironically, we know already how to solve this problem and respond to this challenge. Through federal agencies and educational institutions working together, we have done it in small-scale pilot programs and demonstration projects. Unfortunately, we have not demonstrated the resolve to invest the necessary resources to take our “best practices” to the needed higher scale, simultaneously addressing the challenges of poverty, race, ethnicity and gender.
Just as we have known a great deal about who, where and how terrorists are supported, until it happened here, we were content with trying to keep terrorism away from here. Can the logic and irony of this statement be applied to the apparent condoning of the achievement gap regarding schools that serve low-income and minority students? We have watched this gap build for years, a gap that, even more than terrorism, is ingrained in the very fabric of our society.
Learning achievement for all students must be our goal, and there must be national, collective accountability and responsibility for our performance. We must invest responsibly, based on a clearly articulated vision and set of goals, and we must regularly monitor the health of our investment. Our approach must be standards-based and must employ standards-based assessment.
We must act as a nation to do what is needed. As never before, our future is in our collective hands. 
— Dr. James M. Rosser is president of California State University, Los Angeles.

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