State Secretary of Education Opens VMI STEM Conference
Laura Fornash, Virginia Secretary of Education, speaks during the opening session of the STEM education conference. -- VMI Photo by John Robertson IV.
‘We Are Being Out-Educated’
LEXINGTON, Va., Oct. 1, 2012 – The goal of VMI’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, or STEM, Education Conference is to solve “America’s toughest math problem.” The opening session defined that problem as the lack of students concentrating their studies in STEM disciplines.
The conference, sponsored by VMI’s Center for Leadership and Ethics, opened today and will run through Wednesday, Oct. 3.
Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III ’62, superintendent, defined the challenge and set the stage for conference participants.
“We believe that the conversation that happens here this week can serve as a platform for a much-needed larger discussion,” said Peay.
Peay highlighted the hands-on STEM learning happening at VMI, including studies in robotics, fractals, and the fourth dimension, but he also emphasized the importance of encouraging and enabling the study of STEM disciplines at an early age.
“This national problem cannot be solved simply by convincing college students to suddenly major in STEM disciplines,” said Peay. “The early preparation must take place in the K through 12 classrooms.”
Following Peay’s remarks, Virginia Secretary of Education Laura Fornash offered an overview of the educational challenges the nation faces and the steps the commonwealth is taking to address the issue.
“Here in the commonwealth, we want to ensure that our children and grandchildren are provided with world-class education that will prepare them to be the future scientists, nurses, computer scientists, and teachers,” said Fornash. “It starts here. It starts with us today.”
Fornash demonstrated that, as a nation, we are falling behind the rest of the world when it comes to education.
“Of the 34 most advanced nations in the world, the U.S. ranked 17th in science and 25th in math. Simply put, we are being out-educated,” said Fornash. “We have a major problem that requires real leadership.”
Solving that problem will result in a workforce that can be employed in growing job sectors requiring education in STEM disciplines.
John A. Luke Jr., president and CEO of MeadWestvaco Corp., offered an employer’s perspective on the education of America’s workforce.
“You know that STEM is not strictly an academic exercise,” said Luke. “It’s about real people learning real skills to get real jobs and have a real impact here in Virginia and across our country.
“The question, of course, is how do we get there? How do we close the gap? How do we prepare a next-generation workforce? I know that the answer begins with everyone here in the auditorium today.”
Luke ensured participants that industry leaders are committed to supporting the efforts of public leaders to direct attention and resources to STEM education.
Addressing the many teachers present in the audience, Luke said, “Economic growth in our country depends on what you’re doing here today and everyday in your classrooms. Suffice it to say all of us are counting on you.”
The conference is the first in a series that will bring together students, educators, employers, and policy makers to have a conversation about how to improve STEM education.
“May your experience this year prompt you to join us next year for a second conference that we know some of you will help us design,” said Peay. “Together we’ll assemble the building blocks and chart the way.”
–By John Robertson IV