December 18, 2019
Last week, nearly 28,000 scientists convened in San Francisco for AGU’s annual Fall Meeting. This year also marks AGU’s centennial, and it seemed one topic was on the minds of many: what will the next 100 years look like, and how do we prepare the next generation of scientists? During a plenary discussion with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former California Governor Jerry Brown, AGU’s CEO Chris McEntee asked them what the scientific community can do to accelerate moving the needle on climate change. Brown noted the United States’ education system is ranked 22nd in the world, according to the Program for International Student Assessment’s 2018 analysis. He recognized that reforming the education system will cost money, but that we need to think about it as an investment: “We must invest in young minds, bright minds…”
There are currently several pieces of legislation in Congress devoted to enhancing STEM education access. The Building Blocks of STEM Act– which passed both the House and the Senate and is waiting for signature from the President – instructs the National Science Foundation (NSF) to improve the focus of research and development of the Discovery Research PreK-12 program on early childhood education. Additionally, the bill specifies NSF grants to increase participation of underrepresented populations in STEM fields. The Rural STEM Education Act, introduced by the House’s Science, Space, and Technology Committee Ranking Member, Frank Lucas (OK-03), directs the NSF to support STEM education and workforce development research focused on rural areas. Specifically, the bill would provide grants to help rural educators by providing training that would help them in implementing effective STEM teaching practices and a school-wide STEM approach.
Education, of course, happens beyond the classroom as well. In a session at Fall Meeting devoted to enhancing the STEM ecosystem, several presenters offered educational tools for parents, clubs, and even your local library.
The Space Science Institute partners with public libraries with their STAR Net Program to provide STEM learning experiences and education tools to more than 8,000 libraries across the country. For example, their NASA@ My Library project provided solar viewing glasses to more than 4,000 organizations to help educate about the solar eclipse in 2017. They also work directly with community leaders in libraries with low engagement to help understand the most effective way to reduce barriers to access.
PLANETS (Planetary Learning that Advances the Nexus of Engineering, Technology, and Science) is a partnership between Northern Arizona University, the Museum of Science Boston, and the United States Geological Survey that develops and distributes education modules that integrate planetary science, engineering, and technology. They bring their education units to out-of-school groups, such as Boys and Girls Clubs and summer camps, and seeks to target underrepresented audiences. One of the goals of PLANETS is to promote interest in STEM fields, improve 21st century skills, and open doors to future STEM careers.
As AGU and its members look forward to the next century, we are excited to see bright, young minds flourish thanks to federal and private STEM education opportunities like these. We know that our future ability to innovate is entirely dependent on the quality of education we can offer young people today. The former California governor said it well: “We gotta think about the kids.”