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A Million Student Mission

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Last month, President Obama hosted the White House Science Fair to celebrate students from across America who excel in the study of science, technology, engineering and math. One of those students was a constituent of mine, Angela Zhang, an emerging pioneer in the fields of nanotechnology and cancer treatment, from Cupertino, California.

While Angela and her peers were wowing our nation's 44th chief executive with their imagination and industry, the details of the President's Council of Advisers in Science and Technology (PCAST) emerged. America needs 1 million additional graduates with STEM degrees over the next decade to fill the growing number of jobs that require these skills.

I applaud President Obama's leadership on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, and the PCAST report is yet another clarion call to action. Today, too few students in America are inspired and equipped to serve as the world's next generation of innovators.

For example, one Silicon Valley leader, the Oracle Corp., currently has 1,500 high-paying jobs it cannot fill due to a shortage of STEM-trained professionals. Our nation cannot hope to forge a 21st-century workforce ready to dream big, innovate and win on the global scene if we do not meet this million-student challenge. America needs a bold strategy that brings the public and private sectors together on an urgent national mission. Congress must join with the president to help inspire and equip 1 million STEM students today, so they might be the Sally Rides and Steve Jobses of tomorrow.

Last winter, I introduced the STEM Education Innovation Act of 2011 (H.R. 3373). This legislation advances three key principles to help forge a national mission on STEM education. On a federal level, it creates an Office of STEM Education within the Department of Education to integrate, coordinate and improve the department's K-12 and higher-education STEM educational efforts. On a state level, it institutes a State Consortium on STEM Education to take the lead in shaping best practices in STEM education. These consortiums are crucial in creating strong regional and state opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. On a classroom level, my bill establishes the Educational Innovation Project to forge partnerships with nonprofits, foundations and companies that develop teaching-technology innovations.

The Education Innovation Project ensures that American classrooms are squarely on the cutting edge. Based on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the project's mission is to develop novel and transformational technology for the classroom to provide each student with the resources necessary to be innovative and inventive. Each student can thrive in such a high-tech environment focused on problem-based learning, critical thinking and action-based research. Beyond training a new generation of American workers ready to win the global competitiveness race, the public-private partnerships created by the innovation project will drive current job creation as companies strive to meet the tech needs of schools all across America.

My next piece of STEM legislation will focus on STEM educators. Partnering with undergraduate institutions, this legislation will develop STEM competencies and leadership qualities to forge an entire new generation of teachers. This legislation will also focus on pre-K through sixth-grade teachers to produce elementary educators with competencies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. With this firm foundation in place, children will have the necessary skills and experiences to thrive in STEM subjects when they reach middle and senior high school grades.

As a science teacher, principal and educator of more than 30 years, I know that American greatness is born in our schools. STEM education in our classrooms put a man on the moon and created the Internet, and it is the key to America's future.

I am inspired by my constituent Angela Chang's excellence in science and technology. I am also driven to lead on STEM education because of countless other students, particularly in underserved and underrepresented communities, who dream of being global innovators. My mission, our nation's mission, must be to guarantee that those dreams become reality, thereby ensuring that America remains the global leader in technology and innovation.

This piece originally appeared in THE HILL on 4/3/12


Mike Honda is Silicon Valley's representative in Congress. He is the Budget Task Force chairman for the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the author of "The Budget for All", and a member of the House Appropriations and Budget committees. Honda is also responsible for the creation of the Commission on Equity and Excellence in Education, now housed within the Department of Education


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