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NBA Great Named Calif. After-School STEM Ambassador

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the National Basketball Association's all-time leading scorer, will be promoting the importance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects over the next year as California's After-School STEM Ambassador, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced Monday.

Torlakson revealed the news about Abdul-Jabbar at the third annual California STEM Summit, where the basketball superstar was set to deliver a keynote address toward the end of the day.

"If America is to maintain our high standard of living, we must continue to innovate," said Abdul-Jabbar in a statement. "We are competing with nations many times our size, and STEM learning represents the engines of innovation. With these engines, we can lead the world, because knowledge is real power."


As California After-School STEM Ambassador, Abdul-Jabbar will make appearances at after-school programs around the state over the next year to promote STEM education. The California STEM Learning Network, which my colleague Nora Fleming wrote extensively about earlier this year, convened the STEM Summit in its mission to improve STEM education throughout the state.

Believe it or not, Abdul-Jabbar has invested considerable time promoting STEM education over the past few years. Through his Skyhook Foundation, which he started in 2009, Abdul-Jabbar has been actively promoting the importance of STEM education and STEM-related careers.

On Jan. 18, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appointed Abdul-Jabbar as a U.S. Global Cultural Ambassador. In that role, which he'll continue throughout the rest of 2012, Abdul-Jabbar has been traveling around the world to discuss the importance of education and cultural tolerance.

Earlier this summer, he also spoke at U.S. News and World Report's STEM Conference in Dallas, saying, "STEM education is the key to gainful employment for all of the young people we serve." At the conference, Abdul-Jabbar hammered on the cultural shift that's necessary to make STEM jobs more attractive to youths, especially in lower-income communities.

"They see themselves only being able to be successful in the area of sports or entertainment," Abdul-Jabbar said at the summit, according to U.S. News. "If they can't be Jay-Z or LeBron James, they don't think they can be successful."

Abdul-Jabbar pointed out that while there are only 450 NBA jobs available at any one time (30 teams with 15 players on each, not counting the Developmental League), there are "thousands upon thousands of engineering jobs" available.

He made the same point in an interview with U.S. News back in May, saying that youths would be "better off if they have a lot of opportunities to choose from, not just sports or entertainment. And they will have those additional opportunities if we continue to emphasize education, especially in STEM classes."

Abdul-Jabbar's role as STEM ambassador could take on extra importance in California, as a November 2011 report from WestEd found that a majority of elementary students in the state weren't being exposed to high-quality science instruction, according to my colleague Erik Robelen on the Curriculum Matters blog.

Photo courtesy of Iconomy LLC.

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