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An Investment in STEM is an Investment in our Future

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Tomorrow, President Obama will deliver his sixth State of the Union address, laying out a legislative agenda for the months, and years, ahead. In his previous SOTU speeches, the president has focused on the importance of STEM education, citing the need to impart the next generation with skills necessary to compete and succeed in the modern workforce.

This past December, the Programme for International Student Assessment scores, which measure the aptitude of 15-year-old students worldwide in science, reading and math, were released. Since the last assessment in 2009, U.S. scores remained relatively stagnant in all three subject areas, while other countries slowly crept ahead. Of the 64 nations scored, U.S. students ranked 28th in science, 36th in math and 21st in reading.

The Department of Commerce has estimated that from 2008-2018, STEM occupations are projected to grow by 17 percent, while non-STEM job prospects are expected to grow by only 9.8 percent. In order for the U.S. to achieve economic growth and remain competitive on an international scale, these jobs must be filled.

People employed in STEM fields are making technological breakthroughs that directly impact our lives: engineers are improving our infrastructure, developing safer bridges and roads across the country; scientists are making advances in health care that bring us closer to eradicating disease; and innovators are consistently changing the way we think about communication. They are the people who move our country forward and the minds who enable us to remain one of the most progressive nations in the world.

There is not a lack of jobs in the aforementioned industries, but rather a lack of qualified individuals to fill the available positions. In non-STEM related fields, there is one job available per 3.8 unemployed people. In stark contrast, there are 1.9 STEM positions available for every one unemployed person. The national unemployment rate lingers at 7 percent as STEM employers look for capable individuals to fill holes in their companies.

As we can see from the PISA scores, the U.S. is trailing behind in both science and math. These scores directly reflect upon the lack of qualified individuals available to fill STEM-related occupations. An investment needs to be made in STEM, starting from a young age, and the organizations making these investments need to be recognized.

In his 2011 SOTU address, President Obama set a goal to prepare 100,000 teachers in STEM fields over the next 10 years. Following his remarks, the organization 100Kin10 was founded to address the need for more high-quality STEM educators around the country. 100Kin10 works with stakeholders, from federal agencies and non-profits to corporations and universities, to look strategically at how to improve STEM education in the United States. To date, 100Kin10 has more than 150 partner organizations and has worked with those partners to train over 12,000 teachers in STEM.

Last month, the website Code.org launched their first "Hour of Code" project in which students around the world were encouraged to learn an hour of computer coding. In the first three days of the project, over 10 million students worldwide wrote over a quarter of a billion lines of code. Since the project's launch on December 9th, over 23 million students worldwide have generated almost 750 million lines of code, and over half of those students were young women.

This new and innovative approach to computer science helped to capture the imagination of students and teachers worldwide and generated an unprecedented interest in a skill that is vital in so many STEM occupations. Exposure to this kind of varied education can and should happen on a more regular basis.

We need to keep moving forward. President Obama has set a goal to increase the number of graduates in STEM subject areas by one million over the next decade. These are the goals we as a nation need to set for ourselves in order to ensure that our country remains competitive with our foreign counterparts. We need to collaborate on all fronts, from the classroom to the board room, to ensure that our children are equipped with the tools necessary to succeed.

Goldy Kamali is founder and CEO of FedScoop, a media company focused on government tech, and the community's platform for collaboration and education through news, events, radio and TV.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated that Obama's 2014 State of the Union address would be his sixth. It will be his fifth State of the Union address. The post has been updated to correct this.

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