President Barack Obama’s newly proposed federal budget aims squarely at supporting the new directions he outlined in his Jan. 25 State of the Union address: getting America back on the innovation track — the track that leads to jobs and a strong economy.
The president correctly notes that improved education is the country’s best tool for digging out of economic stagnancy. He has challenged all of us, especially education leaders at all levels, to seize this “Sputnik moment.” And this new budget provides the support to do so, by proposing funds for research in promising new areas — biomedicine, information technology and clean energy. The budget also calls for funding at a level that will truly “win the future,” the monies needed to effectively educate our children. In that “race to educate our kids,” we have miles to go.
The United States is falling to the back of the pack among industrialized nations, ranking 21 out of 30 for science literacy among 15-year-olds. Math literacy fares even worse, at No. 25. World economic powers are fueled by prowess in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math). These STEM fields are the promise of our future.
Programs to attract students to STEM fields — and teach them well — are key to our nation’s forward progress. Here in the Bay Area, we have a head start. San Francisco State University has for decades been a leader in preparing students from both economically disadvantaged backgrounds and minority communities to achieve academic and career success. With more than 2,000 students majoring in biology or biochemistry, San Francisco State plays a major role in providing highly qualified employees to the Bay Area’s thriving life sciences industry.
These San Francisco State efforts have achieved remarkable successes in the STEM fields, and are examples for others to emulate:
- The Center for Science and Math Education is a model for teacher training in STEM fields. The center’s teaching fellowships, for example, give more than 50 math and science majors the support they need to become effective K-12 teachers, ensuring they have both mastery of the subject matter and mastery of the skills needed to teach.
- The Student Enrichment Office helps send up to 25 underrepresented minority students into doctoral programs each year. Almost 900 students have benefited from the financial support, hands-on research opportunities and supplementary instruction that SEO provides. The office’s successes have earned its founder, Frank Bayliss, President Obama’s Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring, and SEO was recently featured on “CBS Sunday Morning” as a strategy for combating “brain drain” in the U.S.
- The University’s stem cell biology training program is preparing a skilled work force to keep California on the leading edge of stem cell research, training students from diverse backgrounds to support work in this exciting field.
- Partnerships with the San Francisco Unified School District are designed to attract more students to science fields and ensure excellence in K-12 instruction. They include S.F. ROCKS, which introduces underrepresented students to research and study in the Earth system sciences; S.F. Promise, which steers elementary students toward an early focus on the college-bound track and guarantees San Francisco State enrollment to those who succeed; and, with the Lawrence Hall of Science, PRIME, a partnership that enriches the math knowledge of fourth- and fifth-grade teachers through three years of intensive professional development.
Could we do more? Yes, we can. San Francisco State University strongly endorses President Obama’s proposal to create 100,000 new STEM teachers and invest National Science Foundation funds in STEM teacher development. We know firsthand that such initiatives do work. We urge Congress to act appropriately and quickly.
Robert A. Corrigan is president of San Francisco State University. Corrigan chaired the Steering Committee of College and University Presidents for the “America Reads Challenge” and the “America Counts” initiatives, at the request of President Bill Clinton.