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White House, Organizations Band To Pursue a Million STEM Volunteers by 2020

The Obama Administration and a group of corporate and non-profit organizations have banded together to promote the idea of bringing professionals in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) into contact with students to encourage young people to pursue careers in STEM. By 2020, the new consortium--US2020--hopes to attract a million volunteers to go into schools and colleges, mentor students, and run programs that will promote the exploration of STEM disciplines. The announcement was made during a Science Fair at the White House yesterday.

"When students excel in math and science, they help America compete for the jobs and industries of the future," said President Obama during the science fair. "That’s why I’m proud to celebrate outstanding students at the White House Science Fair, and to announce new steps my Administration and its partners are taking to help more young people succeed in these critical subjects."

According to a survey done by the Lemelson-MIT Program, a majority of teenagers report that they don't know anyone working in STEM fields, nor do they understand what people in those fields do. US2020 is intended to turn that tide. A particular emphasis will be placed on under-represented groups, including girls, Hispanics and Latinos, African Americans, and Native Americans, among others. The goal is to convince participating companies to allow 20 percent or more of their employees to spend at least 20 hours a year as STEM mentors.

The program will be managed by Eric Schwarz, co-founder and CEO of Citizen Schools, a non-profit with a presence in multiple states that brings together adult volunteers to work with middle-school students in low-income neighborhoods. "In the United States, millions of scientists and technology experts have the ability to inspire students who need their support most; this effort will make it possible for them to enable these moments of discovery," said Schwarz. "Through hands-on projects and academic coaching, US2020 will give students a chance to connect with successful STEM professionals, providing a level of engagement that can change the trajectory of STEM education in the United States."

Other participants include:

The for-profit companies have also committed $2 million for start-up funds to support the program and an additional $1 million in pro-bono services to launch US2020.

SanDisk president and CEO Sanjay Mehrotra said that every hour volunteered by a member of his company's global workforce will be matched by a cash grant of $45, up to $2,000 per employee. "The experience our employees get as volunteers provides tremendous personal and developmental benefits to them, as well as positively impacts the lives of students with whom they interact," said Mehrotra. "Initiatives like US2020 further our tradition as advocates for improved STEM education, and we are proud to support the White House and others in this noble endeavor."

Similar sentiments were expressed by Cognizant President Gordon Coburn. "Few things are more important than STEM education to maintaining American competitiveness, and top technology organizations such as Cognizant have a key role to play in creating an ecosystem that will re-kindle the desire to pursue STEM-oriented disciplines and create millions of moments of discovery for children across the U.S."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.