Business’ Critical Role In STEM Education For U.S. Competitiveness

Wednesday, April 24, 2013 - 10:31

William H. Swanson, Chairman and CEO of Raytheon Company delivered the following address at the Atlantic Legal Foundation's Annual Award Dinner on March 11, 2013 as the recipient of the Atlantic Legal Foundation's Annual Award. With the exception of brief introductory remarks, the Editor presents Mr. Swanson’s speech in its entirety.

It is an honor to be here tonight, and to be recognized by the Atlantic Legal Foundation with its Annual Award. Thank you for this tremendous recognition. Reading through the names of the past award recipients, it really means a lot to me to be in such esteemed company. I’d also like to congratulate Dr. Wilson on his Lifetime Achievement Award.

I realize I’m outnumbered as an engineer in a room full of lawyers, but we’re really not all that different. In fact, engineers and lawyers have a lot in common. We take the complicated and make it simple; we seek truth and logic; we enjoy a good argument or debate on the merits of things. That’s why I really value what lawyers do. And I especially want to thank those of you here who have done work for Raytheon. These are important partnerships. You help us be successful and grow as a company, by providing expertise, resources and global access.

Within Raytheon, I really appreciate the value of good general counsel, which is why we’re blessed to have Jay Stephens on our leadership team. Jay is someone I can count on to tell me what I need to hear. I want to personally thank Jay for all that he does for Raytheon, for me, our board, and, most importantly, our customers. I also want to thank the Atlantic Legal Foundation for its consistent support of the principles of public policy that benefit industry and the private sector.

Under the leadership of its chair, Dan Fisk, the Foundation is at the forefront of advancing the rule of law and free enterprise with programs supporting sound science in the courtroom and corporate governance. Atlantic Legal also supports something near and dear to my heart: educating the next generation as a leader in advocating for school choice and charter schools. In our free-enterprise system, education is vitally important, especially science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, education. We take it for granted, but STEM fields have long been drivers of U.S. economic growth. And they’re the foundation of innovation in this era of global competitiveness. Yet in this new century, our leadership position is being challenged by

  • increased global competition;
  • the “Baby Boomer” generation now entering retirement; and
  • waning student interest in STEM.

This is something I see firsthand as the head of a technology and innovation company, and I’d like to spend the balance of my time talking about “Business’ Critical Role in STEM Education for U.S. Competitiveness.”

Now I could read you pages of stats and figures to frame our nation’s STEM challenge, but I thought it would be more interesting to present them in a short video, and thanks to the Raytheon team, I can do that. Can we please roll the video.

Editor’s note: Video may be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xaNfk0y9IDE.

I think that frames our STEM challenge nicely. The takeaway is that while there are challenges, we all have a part to play, working together, to strengthen STEM education to make a difference. Yet, the truth is that for various reasons, one of the players, the business community, isn’t always as engaged as it should be. 

I hear business leaders complain about the system and the issues they’re having finding qualified people. Well, I was taught that you can’t complain about the system if you don’t try to change it. Business and the private sector have an obligation, and I’ve always believed that they need to be part of the solution. Since virtually every business is dependent on technology today, we all have a stake in replenishing the STEM pipeline with new talent for the future. Businesses certainly see the benefits of a stronger STEM pipeline, with a highly skilled workforce driving innovative new products, systems and solutions. This in turn fosters job growth and increases the competitiveness of our country.

Fortunately, many in the business community are already engaged. However, I’ve been challenging those businesses still on the sidelines to put on their helmets and pads, and get onto the field. If ever there was a moment, this is the moment. Join us in strengthening and deepening our collective efforts and impact. Let’s give a competitive advantage to our youth, our businesses and our country. We need everyone’s help to inspire today’s students at all levels to develop an interest in STEM so they’ll be excited and prepared to pursue STEM education. Once they’re in the pipeline, we need to sustain that interest so that they stay on track to rewarding STEM careers.

So, what can businesses do? The business community and private sector have much to contribute, including

  • visibility into workforce trends and needs;
  • results-oriented focus;
  • marketing skills;
  • public policy advocacy;
  • corporate philanthropy; and
  • volunteerism – employee volunteers who use science, technology, engineering and math every day, and who very much WANT to help!

Whether the steps are big or small, we can all do something.

One area where business engagement is needed is in helping to improve workforce alignment. Too many students and adults are training for jobs in which labor surpluses exist and demand is low, while high-demand jobs, particularly those in STEM fields, go unfilled. As job creators, businesses are on the frontlines of this supply/demand dynamic. So, they have a tremendous opportunity to work together with academia to identify and address the structural misalignment between education and workforce needs. This is something we’ve been focused on at the Business-Higher Education Forum  (BHEF), where I’ve been chair and am currently a member of its executive committee. Our goal of improving alignment is to better develop and maintain the employee skills that will keep our companies competitive in the 21st century.

Another area businesses can play in is providing role models and volunteers. I am proud to be an engineer. Those of us in STEM careers know how exciting our professions are. We need to share that excitement and passion every chance we get. Sometimes all it takes is a single moment or spark to inspire a future engineer or scientist to pursue a STEM career, and many times this inspiration comes from eager volunteers and mentors. Raytheon employees love working with students, and it’s so inspiring to hear the stories from our volunteers and to see the excitement on their faces. And they’re having quite an impact. Last year, our employees logged 200,000 volunteer hours on activities that include mentoring and tutoring, science fairs and math team coaching, school visits, and so forth.

I was talking to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at a White House Roundtable on business and education, and he mentioned three big ways business can engage in the STEM Agenda. They can

  • advocate for standards in the states;
  • help parents be more active and engaged; and
  • make sure corporate giving has a return on investment.

Excellent insight – simple and strategic, and they reinforce accountability, and I think they’re things business and the private sector can get behind. The important thing is to get engaged – as part of the team. Don’t do it alone. Become partnered and aligned with other like-minded organizations and groups. As with any great team, we’re more successful when we’re working together. A lot of groups are doing well-intentioned activities, but if they aren’t aligned, they may be missing an opportunity to have an even greater impact.

I’ve told you some of the things businesses can do. Let me now briefly sketch out some of the things we are doing at Raytheon to show that there’s a range of different ways to plug into the need. At Raytheon, our research helped us to focus on the STEM challenge from the perspective of math and science education in the crucial middle school years. We set as a goal to encourage students to develop and sustain an interest so they would be prepared and confident to pursue STEM disciplines later. We wanted our approach to be interactive, experiential and exciting – to reflect the scientific and engineering culture of our company, and to inspire the volunteerism of our employees.

From that vision, our MathMovesU® initiative was born. Created in 2005, it began as a virtual, Web-based experience through MathMovesU.com that engages students on their own terms to show how math and science can be used in exciting ways to pursue exciting goals. Today, MathMovesU now has several facets, and we’ve teamed with others who share our passion and our vision.

It’s a sports experience with the New England Patriots and the Kraft family at “The Hall at Patriot Place Presented by Raytheon,” with an interactive football game that uses math called “In The Numbers.” 

MathMovesU is a competitive experience through “MATHCOUNTS,” which is the equivalent of the National Spelling Bee for Middle School math competitors, and during the national-level competition, over 200 of the best “MATHLETES®” from across the country compete. We’re honored to be title sponsor through 2018.

And it’s a ride experience at Walt Disney World with an attraction called Sum of all Thrills™, where children of all ages – and the children in all of us – can design their own ride, from smooth to most challenging, using mathematical and engineering principles, and then experience the ride. To date, nearly two million Epcot guests have experienced the ride.

In total, the MathMovesU program has touched the lives of millions of students, teachers and parents.

As our impact has grown in numbers, it’s also broadened, from a middle school focus, to today, when we’re involved in every aspect of the STEM pipeline up through higher education. This growth has added new dimensions to our efforts that include

  • leveraging the skills of our engineers;
  • tapping into community colleges; and
  • strengthening our partnerships.

Raytheon engineers have gotten involved by drawing upon their systems engineering skills to model the U.S. STEM education system at a national level. More than 75 Raytheon engineers spent three years and more than 12,000 hours to examine student capabilities and interest in STEM – as students move from grade school, through high school, college, and into the workforce.

It’s never been a lack of ideas that prevented a solution. But can a great idea be scaled? Can it be evaluated before experimenting on students? To answer these kinds of questions, the STEM Modeling Tool contains hundreds of variables, and it can review and assess different scenarios to see what would happen. After demonstrating the proficiency of the model, Raytheon donated it to Business-Higher Education Forum. Since then, BHEF has worked with partners to develop enhancements to the model and promote its use by U.S. educators and policymakers.

Now, Version 2.0 is being released with the support of the Office of Naval Research to answer the question framed by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology:  How can we develop the workforce we need by graduating an additional one million STEM college graduates by 2020?

In the area of higher education, one of my concerns, as I mentioned earlier, is workforce alignment. Another concern I have as a leader is the inner city, and whether we are doing enough there.

Pairing these two concerns led us to take a closer look at another new dimension for us: community colleges. I’m a member of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership leadership, and the organization has started a “Learn and Earn” co-op program linking our community colleges with businesses in the state. Raytheon is part of this exciting effort. We ran a successful pilot last spring, and we now have a full, semester-long program up and running with 35 students in the program at State Street, BJ’s, Suffolk Construction, EMC, Bank of America, Fidelity and Raytheon.

Another organization we partner with is the Museum of Science, Boston. In working with them, we saw what an impact they were having in supporting the training of STEM teachers through its Engineering is Elementary® program. This program taps into the natural curiosity of elementary-school students and their ability to solve problems, and it helps foster engineering and technology thinking through hands-on, storybook-based learning in math and science. We wanted to help them expand the program, and in 2011, we made $2 million in donations to accelerate teacher training by establishing professional development hubs in Boston; Phoenix, Arizona; Huntsville, Alabama; and here in Washington, and to fund teacher scholarships to expand program access for teachers from inner-city, rural and disadvantaged areas.

MathMovesU, the STEM Modeling Tool, Community College “Learn and Earn” and the Museum of Science – these are just four of the ways we’re excited to be involved in STEM education and outcomes. So in the interest of time, I’d like to play my last short video, which summarizes these and the many more ways Raytheon is engaged in STEM education.

Editor’s note: Video may be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vy_mDZE4yfg.

I wanted to mention that the last initiative we showed, MathAlive!™, debuted last year at the Smithsonian. It’s an interactive museum experience that explores exciting math-powered activities, and Raytheon is proud to sponsor its multi-year tour of science centers and museums across the country. It’s already been a huge success, with total attendance of more than half a million during its first year (with stops in Washington, Phoenix, Huntsville and Houston).

As I close, I’ve told you why business should be engaged, how they can be engaged, and how my business is engaged. Now let me repeat my challenge to those businesses still on the STEM education sidelines: Put on your helmets and pads, and get on the field. It’s the right thing to do for business, and it’s the right thing to do for our country. If we seize this opportunity, I’m confident that together we can contribute to the strong STEM talent pipeline that is so critical for our nation; that is so critical for us to continue to be a leader in technology and innovation in this era of global competitiveness.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak about this important subject, and thank you again for this outstanding honor.