09/24/2012 12:25 pm ET Updated Nov 24, 2012

The STEM Crisis: The Success of Our Country Depends on Our Knowledge of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM)

In high school, Miami student Carmen Gil was sure she wanted to pursue a law degree; however, once her senior year began, she realized she had a true passion for math and chemistry and decided to explore those interests further upon entering college in the Fall 2010.

Now a junior at the University of Florida majoring in chemical engineering, Carmen is excited about the opportunities her STEM education will bring. She even plans to obtain a PhD.

Carmen's story is unique as today fewer and fewer students are pursuing STEM-related majors. In fact, the Commerce Department reports that while STEM majors lead to the some of the most lucrative careers, women only make up 24 percent of the field.

Since the U.S. economy is driven by new technologies, it has never been more important for our nation to develop a strong STEM workforce. What's more, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, the STEM workforce accounts for more than 50 percent of our country's economic growth, yet only 5 percent of U.S. workers are employed in STEM fields; and of those 5 percent, a majority are reaching retirement age, leaving many to wonder to whom they will pass the torch.

In short, the United States is facing a STEM crisis. Lacking qualified individuals who are able to work in key fields, including engineering, technology and science, will hinder our country's global competitive advantage well into the future.

This sobering outlook is the driving force behind the Buick Achievers Scholarship Program funded by the General Motors Foundation. Launched in 2011, the program champions the next generation of STEM students placing a strong focus on women, minorities and students known for giving back to their communities. The 2012 recipients were announced today from the NBC News' Education Nation Summit in New York City. Five of the students, including Carmen, participated in the first nationally televised Student Town Hall.

Developing new STEM talent like Carmen increases our ability to build the technologies of the future; the benefits of which will be realized not only in the U.S. auto industry and manufacturing, but in other vital growth sectors from telecommunications and electronics to energy and the environment.

The process can start as early as preschool. We have the opportunity and obligation to instill in students a love for discovery both in and out of the classroom by developing innovative curricula and hands-on programming for schools, and supporting museums and science centers in our communities.

We must translate that interest into action. As a nation we need to work together to find ways to make education more affordable and accessible for students like Carmen, who last year worked full-time while taking a full load of courses just to pay her tuition.

The STEM crisis won't end overnight. It will take commitment, focus and time. But the end result holds an incredible promise: with new scientists, engineers, inventors and innovators impacting our collective future in every way imaginable.

To learn more about the General Motors Foundation and the Buick Achievers Scholarship Program, visit