02/16/2013 04:23 pm ET Updated Oct 03, 2013

Preparing Students for College and Career: Let's Make a High School Diploma Mean Something

Editor's Note: This post is part of a series produced by HuffPost's Girls In STEM Mentorship Program. Join the community as we discuss issues affecting women in science, technology, engineering and math.

After watching the State of the Union Address, I applaud President Obama's call for relevant STEM-focused education. Every student deserves the opportunity to earn a high school diploma that has prepared them to succeed in jobs or college. The president's call for action aligns with the work taking place in more than 100 New Tech Network schools around the country. We share the belief that we need to redesign America's high schools. We have learned that effective education is about more than technology in classrooms. Teachers need training to engage students and cultivate a love of deeper learning in ways that connect them to their communities and empower them to become something else our president talked about -- responsible citizens.

The president asked, "How do we equip our people with the skills needed to do those jobs... in manufacturing, energy, infrastructure and housing? Let's make sure that a high school diploma puts our kids on a path to a good job."

President Obama challenged us to redesign America's high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high tech economy.

The president said, "We'll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering and math -- the skills today's employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future."

Just today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo of New York announced a new innovative partnership between a New Tech Network school, Tech Valley High School (TVHS) and the State University of New York College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering to better prepare students for the growing nanotechnology industry and build a world-class workforce in upstate New York.

Tech Valley High School, founded in 2007, was designed as a regional training center with the intent of bringing project-based, student-centered learning to the greater Albany region. The school was created, based in part on the strong concern expressed by business leaders in that region to address the lack of a skilled workforce for the dynamically growing high tech economy. This type of partnership, between educators, local businesses and the community-at-large is a critical component of the path we must take to assure our students have access to the type of high school education they need to succeed.

Employers indicate that graduates entering the workforce need the skills of Deeper Learning -- finely honed communication skills, the ability to work in teams and collaborate, the knowledge to think critically, the drive to be an innovative learner and the impetus to work with self-direction and initiative.

High school graduates also need to know how to flourish in a virtual world. When we offer students online learning experiences students become self directed learners who no longer rely exclusively on teachers or textbooks for knowledge and direction. This type of learning mimics the work and college world students will inhabit.

A hallmark of the New Tech Network learning experience focuses on technology and blended and digital learning. This emphasis was highlighted last week in a Congressional Bill introduced by U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA). The Transforming Education Through Technology Act would help speed adoption of innovative digital tools to improve student outcomes, close achievement gaps, boost educator skills and improve efficiency and productivity, according to Rep. Miller's office.

When we create relevant and rigorous learning experiences for high school students, and combine that with the technological resources, we engage students and provide motivation to achieve.

I can't imagine a better time than now to focus nationally on developing student-centered school cultures that truly prepares learners for life after high school. Let's make a high school diploma mean something and provide relevancy and rigor that mimics the real-world job for every student in every community.