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NEWS | April 28, 2015

Importance of STEM Outreach

By Captain Amy Burin Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Atlantic commanding officer

The United States' need for a scientifically, mathematically and technologically literate populace is vital, and it will continue to grow in importance - particularly as other nations make rapid advances in science and technology. Once the world leader, the U.S. now lags behind other nations in science, technology, engineering and math education from elementary school to the college level. International comparisons place U.S. students in the middle of the pack or lower in science and math. The U.S. National Assessment of Educational Progress indicates less than one-third of U.S. eighth graders show proficiency in math and science.

Only one third of bachelor's degrees earned in the U.S. are in STEM areas. More than half of the science and engineering graduate students in U.S. universities are from outside the U.S. Recent evidence indicates that many of the most proficient U.S. students, including minority students and women, have been gravitating away from STEM to other professions.

This trend is something we are concerned about at SPAWAR Systems Center Atlantic, especially since many of our scientists and engineers who came of age in the Apollo era, will be retiring in droves in the near future. We need to engage and attract the future naval scientists and engineers who will fill the pipeline for tomorrow's high-tech jobs in government and defense.

SSC Atlantic has a long-standing commitment to inspire and encourage future scientists and engineers, but in the last several years these efforts have been in high gear. Across SSC Atlantic's locations in Charleston, New Orleans and the Hampton Roads area, our STEM outreach programs involve 18,000 children, 1,200 educators, 172 schools and 14,000 volunteer hours.  Outreach programs such as robotics for elementary through high school students, SeaPerch, DimensionU, Palmetto Cyber Defense Competition, Cyber Security Camps, IT Shadow Day and Girls Day Out summer camp show students the value of a STEM career. They are helping generate a broader, more diversified base of future scientists and engineers for our nation's future.

SSC Atlantic's programs are helping make STEM subjects more interesting to kids at a young age. The youth of today are completely comfortable with every aspect of technology, having spent most of their lives using computers, video games, cameras, MP3s, cell phones and other toys and tools of the digital age. While today's students are interested in technology, many of them are not being taught STEM-related subjects in a way that engages them. SSC Atlantic volunteers partnered with the Center for the Advancement of STEM Education to help teachers adopt new instructional strategies based on inquiry and design-based learning. Our folks worked alongside and supported teachers in laboratories as subject matter experts, performing experiments that help students of all ability levels apply what they learn in the classroom to real world problems. This is a fun way for students to learn and is a proven strategy for motivating them to pursue STEM careers.

From robotics competitions with elementary, middle and high school teams to judging student science projects to summer academies, SSC Atlantic is committed to encouraging STEM study in students and serving as positive role models for career opportunities that await them.  Our outreach activities, along with our partnerships with colleges and universities and our recruiting efforts, are helping us reach our strategic goal of providing innovative IT solutions for today, tomorrow and beyond.