Connecting scientists, engineers and inventors with America’s youth to drive exponential growth of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) professionals is the goal of US2020, a ground breaking mentoring initiative led by Silicon Valley tech companies including Cisco, SanDisk and HotChalk.
Through the US2020 initiative, these partner companies will join a White House led effort to dramatically scale high-quality STEM mentoring, targeting 20 percent or more of their STEM employees volunteering at least 20 hours a year.
US2020 will build the supply of volunteer mentors through corporate employee engagement programs. Together with its partners, this initiative aims to make mentoring the new normal in the STEM fields, just as pro-bono work is common in the legal profession.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the demand for STEM professionals is projected to dramatically outpace the supply over the coming decades, with over two million anticipated STEM job openings by 2018 and a serious shortage of qualified college graduates to fill them.
“STEM education, in a technology-powered economy, is crucial,” said Edward Fields, CEO of Campbell-based HotChalk. “US2020 is critical to the future of STEM education, innovation and the long term prosperity of the United States.”
The effort to match STEM professionals with students from kindergarten through college was unveiled by President Obama during a White House Science Fair held on Earth Day.
“Some of America’s biggest tech companies are encouraging their workers to mentor young students.” President Obama said. He called US2020 a “new AmeriCorps program that’s going to connect more professional scientists and engineers to young students that will follow in their footsteps.”
A recent survey by the Lemelson-MIT innovation center found that a majority of teenagers may be discouraged from pursuing STEM careers because they do not know anyone who works in these fields and they do not understand what people in these fields do. The problem is particularly acute for populations that have been historically underrepresented in STEM fields.
Only 2.2 percent of Hispanics and Latinos, 2.7 percent of African Americans, and 3.3 percent of Native Americans and Alaska Natives have earned a first university degree in the natural sciences or engineering by age 24, according to the Lemelson-MIT study.
Building off of President Obama’s launch of the “Educate to Innovate” campaign in 2009, US2020 plans to turn STEM activities in school like using microscopes, launching rockets, and building robots into enduring passions and attainable careers.