Educating Kids in the Jobs that will Keep U.S. Competitive - An Interview with Norm Augustine

1) Let's talk a bit about STEM in general. Why is it important, specifically as it relates to the kinds of jobs that are growing in Colorado and beyond? All the evidence I've collected convinces me that the future of this country pivots to a considerable degree on our prowess in STEM. Most the major problems are going to have to find the solutions to their problems through STEM...health care, defense...

My second conclusion is we're losing ground to other countries, ... and we're going to be in trouble for it. Nationally, while a lot has been done, when it comes to standardized international tests, we're doing more poorly than we did years ago. The percentage of young people going into STEM — other countries are way past us...it's not that we are getting worse; it's that everyone else is getting better. We are somewhere between stagnant and moving forward a small amount.
2) What are some things we can do to improve?
Much of the gains we've made are outside of the classroom. There are 14,000 school districts in this country, and they're all independent. To try to solve the problem is a tough road to climb.
We would have to pay a physics teacher the same amount of money we pay a physicist. ... We would have to bring free enterprise into the school system.
3) What are some of the main things staving off growth in STEM?
People who do STEM work, the economy involves very heavy heavily on STEM. GDP growth is attributed to science and tech...opportunities are enormous...but why don't more people go into it?
I think one thing is STEM is not portrayed in an attractive manner. There are a lot of misconceptions of STEM work...they're difficult...and unfortunately, our K-12 school are not producing students who are prepared to study STEM. Then you have problems such as the fourth grade girl doing great in math, and her father tells her girls don't do math...that turns people off.
4) What goes on in aclassroomthat is successfully implementing STEM education? A school? And what sorts of things should be done to give educators the proper training?
I used to assume a small classroom was important...but I've been in classrooms in other country where there's 60 students...and they seem to do very well.
I also used to think teachers needed to have advanced degrees, but that's just one driver.
The most important thing that makes a difference is a teacher with the proper credentials, having a degree in the subject they teach. Within the classroom itself is a teacher that's enthusiastic, who can inspire the students. And when a teacher is asked ' Why do we do math? It's hard, ' they don't say, ' Because you have to, ' but rather they say, ' Because if you want to be an astronaut and go to Mars, you have to be able to calculate the trajectory to it. ' You need that enthusiasm.
5) A lot of states and cities are launching initiatives meant to bring more kids into STEM— what advice would you offer toensure success?
You need a highly-educated adult community who wants their children to receive the best results and are willing to invest that. It involves all parties — the parents, teachers and students.
6) Let's talk about public-private partnerships. Are those a good idea when it comes to educating kids and college students in STEM? How can they be strengthened? Any examples of when they've worked?
There are certainly many example of where they've worked. They work best when they're designed to support the teacher. The teacher is still the hero of this entire system.
As CEO of Lockheed, we had 82,000 engineers at that time, they were hard to find, especially because of the security clearance. I was concerned that we weren't producing enough students in Maryland who were prepped for it...I told the governor and he told me 'well, why don't you do something about it?' I laughed and said 'ok, if I try, will you help?' We created the Maryland Roundtable for Education and signed up the top businesses in the state ... and one of the requirements to be a member was that you teach a class for at least an hour. That was a very sobering experience — we had no idea how hard that was.
We had a focus to support education throughout the state to emphasize that this is a priority to address. And for firms to provide volunteers, speakers, etc...the second purpose was to show kids exactly how their education could be applied in the real world. That worked well for us.
7) What's the most important thing to get kids ready for STEM careers?
Math. If we're trying to get more people more qualified in STEM, they have to understand mathematics, because that's the language of STEM.

Norman Ralph Augustine is a Denver native who's spent the last 18 years diving into what he believes to be one of the most pressing issues of our time — educating kids in the kinds of jobs that will keep the United States competitive with other countries. Those jobs focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), which he said are pivotal to ensuring the future of the U.S. as the powerhouse of the modern world.

Augustine, 80, retired as CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp. (NYSE: LMT) in 1997; he previously was chief executive of its predecessor, Martin Marietta Corp. He served as Under Secretary of the Army from 1975 to 1977. He was chairman of the Review of United States Human Space Flight Plans Committee in 2009, and has served on the boards of numerous Fortune 500 companies, including ConocoPhillips, Black & Decker and Procter & Gamble.

 

Norm Augustine