Talk to most education leaders about the biggest challenges and opportunities in America’s public schools and the issue of so called STEM courses is sure to come up. It’s a fancy acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. According to the US Department of Education, job growth in STEM fields is projected to outpace the rest of the economy, in some areas like software and biomedicine, by more than double.
President Obama says STEM is a big education priority, in a speech to education leaders in 2010:
Obama: “Whether it’s improving our health or harnessing clean energy, protecting our security or succeeding in the global economy, our future depends on reaffirming America’s role as the world’s engine of scientific discovery and technological innovation. And that leadership tomorrow depends on how we educate our students today -- especially in science, technology, engineering and math.”
Yet at the same time, only 16 percent of US high school seniors are proficient in math and are interested in a STEM career. And nationally, only about 4 percent of Hispanics between the ages of 25 and 34 have associate’s degrees or higher in STEM fields.
Here in the San Joaquin Valley though, there’s a new effort to change that, bringing together NASA and UC Merced for a groundbreaking program at the valley campus that aims to lead to new nanotechnology solutions for space exploration and increase the number of science, technology, engineering and math graduates. The $5 million grant is the largest outside funded project in the history of UC Merced and will help develop compact, lightweight photovoltaic cells and devices to monitor the health of astronauts.
To learn more about the new project, we spoke with UC Merced Assistant Professor Tao Ye on Valley Edition.