The power of education to transform lives, lift up communities and build pathways to a brighter future was brought home to me in a very personal way tonight during a visit to my hometown of Columbia, South Carolina. At the Richland County Public Library I was honored to present the Ethel Bolden Minority Scholarship to Gabrielle Marshae Dudley. Gabrielle is a young African American woman who has demonstrated outstanding community service leadership skills while pursuing a joint Masters of Library and Information Science and Master of Public History at the University of South Carolina. The Ethel Bolden Scholarship was established last year in honor of my mother’s more than 40 years of service to the Richland County community, its libraries, and its minority students.
Being back in Columbia reminded me of the commitment my parents, who were both teachers, had to education. I guess you could say I got my passion for education honestly. And since becoming NASA Administrator in 2009, I have worked with our Associate Administrator for Education, Leland Melvin, to strengthen the Agency’s commitment to preparing the next generation for leadership roles, particularly in science, technology, engineering and math, or the STEM disciplines. We are committed to ensuring that every child, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or background, has an equal chance to pursue and succeed in these fields.
NASA’s partnerships with schools, universities and communities in every corner of this country is not only about keeping our own workforce pipeline fresh and flowing, it is also about ensuring that America will have the technical expertise needed to compete and win in the 21st century global economy.
There is a crisis in this country that stems from the gap between our growing need for scientists, engineers, and other technically skilled workers, and our available supply. This crisis in education, if not resolved, will contribute to future declines in qualified employees to meet demands in critical career fields that affect U.S. global competitiveness and the national economy. As President Obama has wisely noted, “The country that out-educates us today will out-compete us tomorrow.”
That is why STEM education is the foundation of NASA’s learning initiatives. But NASA needs more than scientists. We need researchers, accountants, writers, archivists, historians and yes, even librarians like Gabrielle Dudley. Ethel Bolden taught me as a child, “You need to know your heritage, where your ancestors came from, but you are part of a larger realm, part of a larger world.” As NASA Administrator, one of my greatest challenges and pleasures is helping to engage and inspire the next generation of Americans to explore that larger realm. Education is the vehicle that will take us there.
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