Chairman Rockefeller Remarks on America Wins When America COMPETES: Building a High-Tech Workforce

May 6, 2010

JDR Head ShotWASHINGTON, D.C.—Earlier this year, in Parkersburg, West Virginia, I met with a group of science and math teachers. We talked for hours about the work they do everyday to inspire their students. They told me why they got into their fields and why they keep at it. We also discussed what it takes to push that button in each student, to give him or her the skills to thrive for a lifetime. It gave me tremendous hope. Not just because I know those students are getting a great education, but also because we’re making a powerful investment in our nation’s future.

When The America COMPETES Act became law in 2007, we were making a commitment to STEM, the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines. America’s place as a global leader in those areas was at risk and we could not afford to fall behind. The Act established several new education programs at the National Science Foundation, and Departments of Energy and Education, and it boosted funding for existing programs such as the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship. 

I worked with Congressman Sherry Boehlert back in 2002 to get this program enacted and provide scholarships for science, math and engineering students to become K-12 math and science teachers. Since it was signed into law, this program has supported the funding for about 7,700 teachers who will reach students in some of the highest-need school districts across the country. Programs like these are long-term investments – and they pay incredible dividends. A world-class STEM workforce is fundamental to addressing the challenges of the 21st century—from developing clean sources of energy that reduce our dependence on foreign oil to discovering cures for diseases.

Projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that over 80 percent of the fastest-growing occupations depend on knowledge of mathematics and science. The National Science Board reported this year that although the Unites States continues to lead the world in science and engineering – other countries are closing the gap by increasing their own investments in research, infrastructure, and education. 

With America COMPETES we planted the seeds of something very powerful, but we have to nurture the investment if we want to reap its benefits. The authorizations in that legislation expire this year and, as we look toward reauthorization, we need to evaluate our progress.

In March, the Committee heard from the heads of several government agencies who echoed the long-term value of these investments. With today’s hearing, I am excited to hear from the incredible people who are actually making good on STEM’s great promise.

Susan Naylor here today from Wood County, West Virginia, was among those teachers I spoke with in Parkersburg. She works everyday where the rubber meets the road, and I hope she will speak about the challenges of implementation. So will Dr. Jim Gates, a physics professor at the University of Maryland, who has his own STEM story and now inspires a new generation of scientists. These are practitioners and we have a lot to learn from them about what works and what does not.

I also want to welcome our other impressive witnesses and thank them for sharing their experiences today. David Zaslav, President and CEO of Discovery Communications, Dr. Ioannis Miaoulis President and Director of the Museum of Science Boston and Founding Director of the National Center for Technological Literacy, and Tom Luce, CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative and former Assistant Secretary of Education for Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development.

We have to work together to support STEM disciplines at school of course, but we also must make sure our students are getting the same support at home, in our communities, and from the media. This is incredibly important – it’s an investment in our community and our country’s future. And if we get it right, the rewards will be enormous.