Subcommittee Explores Local Efforts to Advance STEM Education

Apr 30, 2012

Huntsville AL – Today, Subcommittee on Research and Science Education Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL), joined by Ranking Member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), held a field hearing in Madison, Alabama to explore local science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education programs and partnerships. The hearing, titled STEM Education in Action: Local Schools, Non-Profits, and Businesses Doing Their Part to Secure America’s Future, examined the impact of these programs and partnerships on the next generation of STEM professionals, local jobs, and the U.S. economy.

Praising the region’s excellent schools and research institutions that provide high tech education and employment opportunities, Chairman Brooks said, “North Alabama is an ideal place to promote STEM education,” adding that Alabama’s fifth district “can serve as a model for the rest of America.”

Further emphasizing the importance of STEM education as a top priority for North Alabama’s economy, Chairman Brooks said, “Our commitment to STEM education is exemplified by contributions to STEM programs in the community by the University of Alabama-Huntsville’s Propulsion Research Center and related scholarships and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center’s summer camp, as well as many other local initiatives supporting STEM programs for students ranging from elementary through high school.”

Several witnesses testified about the importance of collaborations and community support to successful STEM education.  Dr. Camille Wright, Director of Secondary Instruction for Madison City Schools, said “In today's fast-paced world, so many of the jobs our students will hold don't currently even exist. This means that our students need to exit high school with the ability to think, collaborate, make decisions and innovate.”   Along these lines, Dr. Wright said “It is important to develop a culture that embraces the concept ‘community of learning’ from the schools, to the family, to industry and throughout the community.”

Dr. Robert Altenkirch, President of the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH), further stressed the need for educators to give students a broader view of how STEM disciplines become a foundation for high-tech jobs.  “At younger ages — elementary and middle school — we need to help students gain a better appreciation of what engineers and scientists do,” Dr. Altenkirch said. “Outreach efforts by UAH faculty and staff are giving them opportunities throughout their K-12 career to engage in STEM career type activities (design, programming, etc.). This will allow us to develop more integrated approaches and programs that build on one another so that students can anticipate future activities as they progress into later grades.”

According to statistics published by the National Science Board, as of May 2010, there were over 202,000 occupations in Huntsville, Alabama, and the median annual wage was $48,000. Eighteen percent (or 35,500) of those occupations were in STEM fields, and the median wage for those jobs was $86,000 - nearly twice the average of occupations overall.  Witnesses today advocated for communities to explore creative ways to improve STEM education activities, in order to ensure the nation’s future prosperity. 

Chairman Brooks concluded by saying that “an essential element of future U.S. economic prosperity is a competent, skilled workforce - one that we cannot achieve without strong STEM education efforts, particularly on the local level.” 

The following witnesses testified today before the Subcommittee:
Dr. Camille H. Wright, Director of Secondary Instruction, Madison City Schools
Dr. Robert A. Altenkirch, President, University of Alabama – Huntsville
Dr. Marilyn C. Beck, President, Calhoun Community College
Dr. Neil Lamb, Director of Educational Outreach, HudsonAlpha Institute
Mr. Andrew Partynski, Chief Technology Officer, Science Applications International Corporation