MissionSTEM: Building Our Nation's Talent Pool

In a recent blog, I noted the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s famous speech on the nation’s space effort. That speech is especially relevant today in light of NASA’s current work to launch humans to destinations in deep space. These missions will involve formidable challenges, but they will drive the creation of exciting new capabilities and unprecedented technologies. One thing is clear: such an awesome undertaking will require the best talent our nation has to offer, just as it did in 1962 when President Kennedy vowed that America would lead the world in space exploration.

In 2009, more than 1.5 million U.S. citizens earned bachelor’s degrees in this country, but only 4.4 percent were in engineering, and only 1.1 percent were in the physical sciences. Only 2.4 percent of our undergraduates earned degrees in computer sciences and only 1.0 percent in mathematics. When we consider the numbers of women and minorities earning degrees in these fields, the situation is even worse. According to the National Science Foundation’s National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, 0.8 percent of all bachelor’s degrees earned in 2009 were by women in engineering and only 0.2 percent of those earned were by African Americans in engineering. These numbers are simply unacceptable for a world leader in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) like the United States.

At NASA, we take seriously our responsibility to help inspire our nation’s future scientists and engineers and provide them with experiences and opportunities. We also want the nation’s STEM degree programs to be more welcoming, supportive, and accessible to all students. With that in mind, this week we launch MissionSTEM.nasa.gov, a Web site created by our Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity, to assist colleges and universities in strengthening their STEM programs. MissionSTEM informs our grantee universities and science centers and museums of their EO compliance responsibilities, but it goes far beyond compliance. The Web site also will connect NASA with its grantees, professional STEM organizations, and other interested stakeholders, to creatively address issues such as recruitment and retention of diverse students. It will serve as a conduit for information-sharing on topics of common interest, such as promising practices to lead educational institutions that help create more inclusive learning environments and more broadly diverse student bodies.

Where will we find our future STEM talent? We will find it in every community, in every university and college, and in students of every socio-economic background. The talent is out there. It always has been. I am confident that American students have the intelligence, curiosity, and tenacity to excel in STEM fields. We, as a nation, must commit to encouraging and supporting them to pursue their dreams. Take a few minutes to look at MissionSTEM.nasa.gov and see how you can help foster the future talent for America’s STEM workforce.