“Teach. Inspire. Hire.”

At the U.S. News STEM Solutions National Conference, these words served as the rallying cry for over 2,000 leaders and visionaries. They gathered this week in Austin, Texas, to discuss the state of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education, talent recruitment and career preparedness. Today, as our schools struggle to equip students with the skills necessary to compete in a 21st century workforce, companies are racing to fill a critical talent shortage.

For AT&T and over a dozen other corporate sponsors at the conference, one fact is unavoidable: If students continue to graduate without essential STEM knowledge, we risk jeopardizing our future economic health and global competitiveness.

Hearing the conference’s diverse speakers, I soon realized that there is no single, silver bullet solution to this problem. Indeed, the summit called upon leaders from all sectors — business executives, educators, policy makers, government officials and community members — to carve out a long list of strategies and changes, designed to advance the national STEM agenda. As tech experts proposed methods of blended instruction, non-profit advocates underscored initiatives to promote technical training. I recalled the conference’s theme: “Teach. Inspire. Hire.” If we hold educators responsible for teaching STEM skills, and hold companies responsible for hiring STEM workers, whose job is it to inspire learners along the way?

For AT&T and over a dozen other corporate sponsors at the conference, one fact is unavoidable: If students continue to graduate without essential STEM knowledge, we risk jeopardizing our future economic health and global competitiveness.

As educators are urged to adopt best practices that encourage student engagement, corporations like AT&T have the power to inspire students outside the classroom. By utilizing their scale and resources, businesses can enhance the appeal and delivery of STEM education, fueling public enthusiasm.

Statistically, nearly 40 percent of college students planning to major in engineering and science end up switching subjects. Thus, while the number of STEM-related jobs steadily rises, interest remains in sharp decline. As educators are urged to adopt best practices that encourage student engagement, corporations like AT&T have the power to inspire students outside the classroom. By utilizing their scale and resources, businesses can enhance the appeal and delivery of STEM education, fueling public enthusiasm.

Throughout the conference, speakers celebrated the development of innovative technology. Such technology promises to provide greater access to quality STEM instruction, taught by the nation’s brightest minds. Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs), for instance, allow millions of people around the world to attend free classes on nearly every subject imaginable, led by professors at top universities. Though still in its infancy, the MOOC model has fast expanded to include for-credit courses, foreshadowing reduced tuition fees and the proliferation of remote learning communities.

AT&T’s collaboration with Georgia Tech and MOOC provider Udacity reflects this exciting sea change: For the first time, students are expected to be able to attain a master’s degree in computer science for less than $7,000. As one of the most selective schools in the U.S., Georgia Tech is providing learners of all ages the opportunity to take classes from virtually anywhere, whenever they want. These new programs have the potential to open alternative routes to STEM accreditation.

Yet, apart from improving access to effective science and math programs, we need to get better at communicating the opportunity and value in STEM career paths. Ask the average American to actually define “STEM,” and you’ll likely see some head scratching — according to a recent survey by the Entertainment Industries Council, 86 percent of participants had no idea what the acronym stood for, with most guessing that it might refer to “stem cells” or “broccoli.”

In short, STEM needs a more appealing public image if we expect students to improve their perception of these fields, and choose degrees in Chemistry over Creative Writing. Probably one of my favorite moments of the conference was witnessing three top communications firms pitch memorable branding concepts for a STEM ad campaign.

Finally, I thought. Here was an attempt to creatively redefine “smart” as the new “cool.”  Let’s celebrate our researchers and engineers the way we do our movie stars and athletes.

I was thrilled to see so many industry leaders taking an active role at the U.S. News STEM conference, exploring innovative projects and strategic partnerships with educational institutions. These companies are truly taking the charge to teach, hire, and — perhaps most importantly — inspire their future workforce.

This post original appeared on the AT&T Consumer Blog.

About the Author

Charles Herget

Associate Vice President of Education Leadership

charles_herget

Charles is the Associate Vice President of Education Leadership and is based out of Dallas, TX.

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