They say New Year's resolutions are meant to be broken. But as another year begins, here is a national challenge we cannot afford to ignore, and should resolve to address without delay: the declining number of young Americans entering the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
This is not, nor should it be, a problem for our schools to tackle alone. It will take all of us -- from involved parents and teachers to employers, government entities, STEM professionals and civic and community organizations -- to help inspire the next generation of innovators.
As science and technology increase their role and influence in our everyday lives, we need to find new ways to encourage, motivate and attract the best and the brightest minds to solve some of the toughest challenges these advances will bring -- "challenges involving energy, water, climate and sustainability, and improving healthcare delivery and national security," says Charles Vest, Ph.D., president of the National Academy of Engineering and president emeritus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Inspiring kids not only to study science, mathematics and engineering but also to dream big and have the confidence and perseverance to follow those dreams into rewarding and well-paying STEM careers is also key, especially since innovations emanating from such fields play a critical role in the U.S. maintaining a competitive global edge in technology. (Unfortunately because of various factors, including the declining number of U.S. students entering STEM, we are showing signs of losing that edge. For instance, China currently is producing more engineers trained in English than the United States produces. And today, two-thirds of the Ph.D. degrees granted in engineering by U.S. universities go to non-U.S. citizens.)
As a nation, we can do wonders in helping to turn this situation around by coming together to demonstrate to young students that science, engineering and other STEM areas are not only fun, but key to improving the quality of life for everyone in countless ways!
This is why I founded the USA Science & Engineering Festival, the nation's largest celebration of science and engineering. The Festival's second national gathering will take place next April in satellite events across the nation, and culminate in a massive expo on April 28-29 in Washington, D.C. -- an event that will celebrate the wonders of technology and innovation through an exciting array of interactive, hands-on exhibits, stage shows, book fair and other activities -- all featuring some of the top scientists, engineers, space explorers, serial entrepreneurs, authors and other "stars" in technology today.
Make a New Year's resolution for you and your family to join us in a satellite Festival event near you, or in D.C. at the Washington Convention Center for the Expo!
As founder and chief organizer of the festival, I want this event, like our festival held in 2010, to help inspire the next generation of science and technology innovators through exciting, unforgettable ways, including our fun and exciting expo weekend that allows kids and their families to participate in over 2,000 hands-on activities (sponsored by hundreds of partners from education, research, government and professional and community organizations) and see more than 100 live performances by science celebrities and others.
On hand will be such stars as Bill Nye the Science Guy and Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage of the MythBusters. Visitors will also learn from such world-renowned innovators as Elon Musk, creator of rocket manufacturer SpaceX and co-founder of PayPal (the world's largest Internet payment system), and best-selling science authors, including Homer Hickam, author of Rocket Boys (the book that inspired the Hollywood movie October Sky).
The excitement does not stop there. The Expo also features a STEM Career Pavilion which gives kids the chance to meet real-life role models in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, in addition to finding out about internships, mentorships, scholarships and after-school programs, and meeting representatives from some of the leading colleges and universities focused on STEM.
And leading up to the Expo during the month of April will be a series of interactive events in science and engineering to further wow students and communities:
-- Through our Nifty Fifty program, sponsored by AT&T, middle and high school students in the greater Washington, D.C. area will have a chance to meet with more than 125 of the nation's most dynamic and influential scientists and engineers. In addition, the Lunch with a Laureate program is a rare opportunity for small groups of middle and high school students to engage in informal conversations with 15 Nobel Prize-winning scientists during a brown bag lunch. Students will learn first hand about exciting scientific discoveries, hear about the trials and tribulations of fast-paced research in STEM-related areas, and find out what makes a Nobel Laureate tick.
-- Our Satellite Festival gatherings throughout the country will truly make the 2012 USA Science & Engineering Festival a national experience. These events -- held by student clubs, schools, universities, community organizations and companies -- will bring the excitement and the celebration of STEM and innovation to thousands of people across the nation. For a listing of these events, and to find out how you can attend or host one, please visit the Satellite Event section of the website.
Together we can make a difference in inspiring the next generation of innovators. I invite you to join with us in resolving to take that step in April with the USA Science & Engineering Festival!