THE BLOG
04/15/2014 09:40 am ET | Updated Jun 15, 2014

USA Science and Engineering Festival: Making a Difference in the Lives of Our Children

In today's world, technology drives everything that we do! It has become apparent that America's livelihood is greatly dependent on a skilled workforce capable of keeping up with this evolution of our civilization. There was once a time when we relied heavily on industries powered by steam, but now most are powered by innovation. We are a more tech savvy society of individuals who utilize technology as a means of transporting us to places on the internet, where we can communicate and collaborate using the many avenues of social media. Technology allows us to quickly access almost anything our hearts desire at the push of a button. With these changes, we have been ushered into an era of technological advancement that will continue to evolve us, our community and our world.

The world is changing around us at such a rapid pace that the need to keep up is of paramount concern in almost every industry. Many have come to realize that with these advancements, we have now created a demand for more experienced professionals in science, technology, engineering and mathematics career fields, most commonly known as "STEM." Education in STEM is the fuel that will drive the economic engines of the nation, and lay the foundation for innovation well into the future.

My curiosity for science began early in life with my passion for space. I was 13 years old during the first lunar landing. Seeing human beings on another celestial body opened my eyes to the infinite possibilities of technology.

The importance of STEM education has increasingly become the greatest concern in the education of our youth. It is critical for our nation's growth. We are in an era where almost 80 percent of jobs and the best-paying jobs require strong skills in mathematics and science. There are several key elements to ensuring a successful path to a more STEM literate workforce: parents, educators, industry and government.

Parents play a large role in the educational direction of our youth. We must encourage the parents to be more involved in helping to cultivate their child's mathematics and science proficiency. So the question becomes how do we encourage parents to get involved? I believe that in order to increase their involvement, parents must first feel empowered. They must know how to access information, what questions to ask and of whom to ask them and, most importantly, they must feel comfortable doing so in the school environment. Parents and families are among the most important factors in determining a child's success in life. Building strong familial relationships, whether traditional or non-traditional, show children that the adults in their lives have rallied around them, and support their teachers who have a vested interest in them genuinely being successful.

The people responsible for conveying this knowledge to our youth are educators. We rely on their help to guide our youth on their way to fulfilling their dreams. It is a fact, that a teacher's knowledge of and their interest in the fields they teach can impact our youth ultimate success in the classroom. If I reflect back to the classes that I love the most, it was because my teacher was knowledgeable and passionate about their field, which was then passed on to me. In the nation's discussion about the need for a better educated workforce, we sometimes forget our educators in the equation. We can assist our educators in STEM by providing pre-service education and ongoing professional development. Equally as important is providing opportunities for meaningful professional development opportunities throughout a teacher's career. Lastly, identifying a diverse and dedicated corps of teachers -- a constituency that will look like the population it serves -- is a reform method that studies have shown will increase student performance in school. We must rally around our educators, particularly our teachers!

Our industry and community leaders should also become more involved in the success of our youth's education. There is a need to invest in tomorrow's leaders and their teachers today. When communities, including local/national business and industry leaders, provide opportunities for students to see beyond the four walls of the classroom, they open up a new world for students. Authentic learning through field experiences and solving real-life problems is one way to accomplish this. Partnerships between K-12 educators and STEM industries and professionals can help facilitate this.

What can government do? Provide the framework for education, set policies that enable the transformation education of more literate STEM educated student and workforce.

Through our non-profit, The Harris Foundation (THF), we are helping to bridge the gap in STEM education. We provide a platform where corporate partners and philanthropy can meet to not only discuss the issues but jointly create programs that directly impact the lives of our children and their community. One of the ways we do this is through our summer program, the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp (EMBHSSC), a two-week residential camp hosted at 20 colleges and universities across the nation. We are able to offer middle school students a hands-on experience with STEM education and a chance to interact with STEM professionals and role models, while introducing them to the "college campus life" experience. We have other programs like the Capital One "RockIt," a financial literacy program for middle and high school students and their parents, and the TEN80 Student Racing Challenge with the US Army. In many of our programs we engage the government through fostering relationships with agencies such as, the Federal Reserve, NASA, FBI, US Army, county and city. By establishing more private-public partnerships that can engage students, parents, teachers, business and community leaders, we can create and sustain programming that will allow America to compete in a global, technology-driven society.

I believe that there is hope for a brighter future for our nation. It is about utilizing all of our resources to make a difference in the lives of our children. That is why I am so excited about supporting and speaking at the USA Science and Engineering Festival!