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Federal Hearing Highlights Private-Sector Efforts to Promote STEM Education

At a recent meeting of a U.S. House subcommittee that oversees science education (among other things), the heads of STEM education programs and several high school students discussed private-sector efforts to engage young people in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields.

"With the federal government spending nearly $3 billion dollars across 13 federal agencies on STEM education programs each year, we must ensure the government is leveraging rather than duplicating private sector STEM education initiatives," said Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.), the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Research and Technology, in prepared remarks at the Jan. 9 hearing. That panel is part of the House science committee.

Among those offering testimonies was Dean Kamen, the founder of the Foundation for Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), an after-school robotics program that's been around since 1989. Through the program, students work with scientists and engineers to design and build robots, which then compete in a sports-like environment—an analogy he repeated several times (making the argument that STEM accomplishments should be valued as highly as athletic ones).

"[O]ur sport is the only one where every kid can turn pro—there are jobs out there for each of these kids," he said in written testimony.

Four students testified to lawmakers about FIRST as well.

Brian Morris, a 12th grader at Chantilly Academy in Chantilly, Va., said FIRST "has challenged and trained me in ways normal classroom schooling never has, and because of FIRST, I feel more prepared to face the challenges and obstacles of the 'real world.'" (Notably, for me, the three male students who testified all said they plan to pursue STEM-related educations and careers, while the sole female said she will likely become a teacher.)

Kamen asked the subcommittee members to help schools, "especially underserved schools, to gain access to FIRST ... by directing the fees collected through the H-1B visa program." That visa allows U.S. companies to employ foreign workers in occupations requiring technical expertise.

Hadi Partovi, the co-founder of Code.org, the nonprofit sponsor of the "Hour of Code," also spoke about the group's efforts to bring computer programming to "every student in every school" (from this report you'll see Partovi's got his work cut out for him).

The vice president for academic affairs at Rose‐Hulman Institute of Technology, a private, STEM-focused university, described some of his school's outreach to high school students, including a three-week summer program and the "Rose‐Hulman Homework Hotline," which offers free over-the-phone math and science tutoring for students of all ages.

You can find all the testimony here. 

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