STEM Challenges

I recently received a flyer from the Office of Naval Research advertising the Naval STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) Forum, that highlighted 12 points of dubious distinction regarding STEM education in the U.S. This flyer listed 12 “facts” that contributed to the shortage of STEM graduates from U.S. colleges and universities. (I have added a few notes to some of these, thanks in part to a list compiled by Prof. Anna Endreny of Syracuse University.) While we do somewhat better than the national average in STEM preparation at Ohio State, it is still an area of national concern and hence it concerns us as well. The Office of Academic Affairs is convening an advisory effort, through the Office of Undergraduate Education, that will enlist representatives from all of our colleges, and several important OSU partners, to do an assessment of where we are and what we might do to respond to this “crisis”. I am repeating this list below, with the appropriate references:

1. Jobs requiring math are increasing four times faster than overall job growth (Program for International Student Assessment test, 2004). (Note: Many job openings will not be filled by United States citizens (Business-Higher Education Forum 2005). However, foreign STEM graduates are working less in the United States due to increased immigration regulations and increased resources in their countries of origin.)

2. Only 33% of eighth graders are interested in STEM majors and careers and only 6% of high school seniors will get a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field.

3. Only 18% of high school seniors are rated as science proficient and 33% as math proficient (Digest of Education Statistics, 2009).

4. 30% of high school mathematics students and 60% of high school physical sciences students have a teacher who did not major in that subject or is not certified to teach it (National Center for Education Statistics). (Note: Some projections exist that indicate that 280,000 new math and science teachers will be needed by 2015.)

5. The U.S. is ranked 27th (out of 29) for the rate of STEM bachelor’s degrees awarded in developed countries (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2009), 6% of undergraduates major in engineering in U.S. compared with 12% in Europe, 20% in Singapore, and 40% in China (Rising above the Gathering Storm). (Note: The U.S. was classified as “statistically below OECD average” in both science knowledge and mathematics in the 2006 PISA survey of 400,000 15-years-old students in 57 countries.)

6. In 2007, men earned a majority of bachelor’s degrees awarded in engineering, computer sciences and physics, (81%, 81%, and 79%, respectively) (National Center for Education Statistics).

7. Undergraduate programs in science and engineering report the lowest retention rates among all academic disciplines, with fewer than half of undergraduates who entered college intending to major in a STEM field and completing a degree in one of those subjects (National Center for Education Statistics and National Science Board). (Note: Less than 40% of students intending to major in STEM fields upon college entrance actually complete a degree in these fields. For underrepresented minorities the rate is below 25%.)

8. Students with bachelor’s degrees in engineering had the highest average starting salary offers compared with students with bachelor’s degrees in other subjects (National Asso- ciation of Colleges and Employers). The median salary of STEM workers is more than double the median salary of the total U.S. Workforce (NSF, 2010).

9. More S&P 500 CEOs obtained their undergraduate degrees in engineering than in any other field (“2004 CEO Study: A statistical Snapshot of Leading CEOs,” 2005).

10. 89% of middle school students would rather do their chores than their math homework (Raytheon Survey, 2010).

11. More than 30% of current DoD Science and Technology professionals are expected to retire by 2020 (Seng, Institute for Defense Analysis, 2009). For security reasons, DoN must rely on U.S. citizens for classified technology work, which presents a unique challenge. Half of all engineers in the U.S. will retire with the baby-boom generation (U.S. Congress, 2006).

12. Scientific innovation has produced roughly half of all US economic growth over the past 50 years (NSF, 2004).

2011 Denman Research Forum

This week marked the 16th version of the Denman Undergraduate Research Forum, which was again held in the RPAC. I can’t say enough about the meaning of this event, particularly what it means to me personally.

First, it is huge. We had 580 students exhibiting in the forum, presenting 539 projects. The projects were presented as posters, and they were spread over two full-size gymnasiums in the RPAC. It was incredible to look down from the 3rd floor exercise level onto the projects below. It really brought home how big it actually was.

According to the Honors website, “the Denman is a research competition that provides a means for undergraduate students to share their research with members and friends of the OSU community; to recognize the significant contributions to research by OSU undergraduates; and to facilitate exchange between students, faculty, and the public.” It succeeded in all three purposes.

We had over 25 judges that were from corporations, all with an interest in what our undergraduates are contributing through their research. They came from all over the region, and from as far away as California. Additionally, 365 faculty gave up some of their busy day to assist with the judging. Each project is assigned to three judges who are familiar with the area of research, and each judge is responsible for multiple projects across the area. They read the posters, and interact with the presenting students to get a sense of their interest, commitment and the significance of their contribution. I heard only positive comments from this team of judges, about the student work and about the experience of interacting with the students.

Based on these assessments, the “winning” projects were awarded 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place status, and the students were awarded cash prizes. Sixteen students were selected as 1st place winners. I totally agree with Dr. Carol Whitacre from the OSU Office of Research, who pointed out in her speech that every single one of the participants were winners. The quality of the projects was exceptional, across the board, and I’ve never been around a more articulate group of students who were excited to explain what they had done.

I also had the extreme pleasure of having dinner with Rick and Marte Denman, who were responsible for establishing the forum, and who remain committed to its success. They are OSU alums, and truly are two great friends of the University. Plus, they are just really good people!

I have to offer up my respect and admiration for the students who are engaged with their undergraduate experience, as shown by their work. And I have to offer up my respect and appreciation to all of the participants, from the staff of H&S and URO, to the faculty and industry judges, to the corporate sponsors and individual financial contributors. All of you truly made this day a success!

For more information about the Denman, and a list of the awardees, go to the Denman website at

Excellence to Eminence – Be Here Now

Someone asked me to share the commentary that I wrote on culture change that was published in OnCampus a few months ago, so here it is.

“The pathway from excellence to eminence is not the easiest one to traverse, although it is the right path to take. President Gordon Gee has aptly pointed out that one of the first items on our agenda along this path is culture transformation, and I quite agree. There are many aspects that are highly relevant to this process — accountability, personal behavior, teamwork and the “blue-chip” mindset, to name a few. But none is more logical, yet in many cases more difficult to realize, than the concept of “Be Here Now.”

In the mid-1980s, I worked in an industry that demanded constant attention to the business at hand. My boss was energetic and dynamic and provided that constant attention. But it came with a cost. During important group and individual meetings, he would answer telephone calls, step out of the room to discuss unrelated topics with others, turn to his desk to sort through and look at his mail and be visibly distant as important conversations took place.

Trade magazines were an important component of our business, and it was necessary to keep up with them. He would bring a stack to meetings to page through them as the meeting progressed, thinking of course that he was being very efficient. He was clearly “not here now,” and his lack of presence had a very negative impact on the morale of the people that worked for him. Even his marriage failed as he continued this practice when he left the office and went home.

I learned a lot from this experience, and when the company relocated, I reflected on what I had learned and chose not to accompany my boss. His work-life structure was out of balance, and his relationships suffered as both his family and co-workers struggled to keep his attention and even be heard. The stress associated with the job was magnified many times over as his focus was elsewhere. The employees felt that they were not listened to, that their presence and their needs were secondary to his priorities and they struggled to see that he valued their input. Yet over the entire period, he saw his “multi-tasking” as a positive trait, one that allowed him to move upward in the business world.

“Be Here Now” requires that we be present in the moment. It requires that we quiet our minds and keep our focus on thoughts that are relevant to the conversation or activity that is taking place. It requires that we listen without judgment and with an open mind — or listen to understand. It requires that we be aware of our current environment, including those people and activities that expect our attention. It requires that we minimize the distractions that take us away from each of those requirements. When the distractions divert our attention, our minds wander, and we are not able to focus on important words and actions that are so critical to the present situation.

This is not easy, particularly in our current state of connectedness. Text messages and e-mails continuously arrive, and we get phone calls when we are at lunch, in the car, in class, walking across the Oval or in an important meeting. Expectations for responding to these intrusions are elevated: “I sent you an e-mail 10 minutes ago, and you haven’t responded. What’s up?” Couple this with the current environment of change, the demands that are placed on us and the need to respond in a timely fashion, and the ability to “Be Here Now” is diminished.

It is not possible to totally keep out the distractions. Our thoughts are naturally moving from one topic to the other. But if we can minimize the distractions, and if the impatience, anxiety and inattentiveness that accompany the distractions can be kept in check, we can be more effective at what we are presently involved with when we need to be more effective. We will be able to fully contribute to conversations, and our performance will reflect the attentiveness we bring to the present situation. We will convey to others that their presence and input is valued and considered.

I don’t know what my old boss is doing now, but my guess is that, as successful as he might be in business, there is still not an appropriate balance in his life, that people around him are still feeling that they are not valued and that his attention is not in the present moment. He has certainly missed the fulfilling experience of ‘Being Here Now.’ ”

Note: The entire collection of “Excellence to Eminence” editorials can be found online at he OnCampus site at: