Washington DC – Today, the Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held a hearing to examine approaches and programs that encourage and help science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) professionals transition their knowledge and skills from industry to a second career in teaching or to give back to classroom education as a mentor.

“The ability to educate and inspire is a quality that all teachers should possess,” said Subcommittee Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL).  “Individuals who have spent time in a STEM profession bring a unique perspective to the classroom and can make a great contribution to our STEM education efforts.”  Brooks continued, “At the same time, industry experience, knowledge, and skills alone do not necessarily make a good teacher.  Good teaching requires an additional and special set of knowledge and skills.”

The looming retirements of the baby-boomer generation and current unemployment rates have exacerbated a U.S. workforce in flux for many generations.  STEM industry professionals looking to give back to their communities or to make a career transition to the classroom by incorporating their professional experience with teaching or by mentoring students or teachers in and out of the classroom are encouraged by those organizations launching programs to support STEM education.

A former software engineer, Ms. Christine Sutton, today provided a first-hand account as a professional who has transitioned to academia. Ms. Sutton is currently a secondary math teacher in Huntsville, Alabama who also teaches computer science and a course in cybersecurity.  Ms. Sutton discussed how successful STEM professionals have an opportunity to motivate students.  “As a parent I had many opportunities to volunteer at my children’s schools and to help their friends with math assignments,” Ms. Sutton said. “I was amazed by how many students (and adults) disliked math and believed that I could transfer my love of problem solving to the classroom to change attitudes and build confidence.”

Witnesses today highlighted the importance of programs that assist with this transition. Dr. Michael Beeth, Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, said that “STEM professionals bring unique knowledge and skills to the teaching profession that traditional undergraduate students do not have or have not had the time to develop.”  Dr. Beeth said “it would be beneficial if all STEM professionals received explicit training regarding how they can become engaged in the education of K-12.”

However, witnesses also discussed how pursuing teaching as a second career may be challenging for current STEM industry professionals who must consider numerous issues, from monetary concerns to certification and licensure requirements. Alternative certification routes have become more promising for these transitioning professionals as they may provide more opportunities to have previous work experience count toward licensure, certification or degree requirements.

Mentoring opportunities, both inside and outside of the classroom, provide opportunities for STEM professionals to contribute as well.  Mr. Jason Morrella, President of the Robotics Education and Competition Foundation, stressed that “Industry professional have a much bigger influence on students and teachers than they might initially understand.”  Mr. Morella continued, “It’s taking that next huge step to actually working with the students, mentoring them in a STEM challenge and solving problems with them that makes the impact and has a long-term influence.”

Members and witnesses today agreed on the great potential of public and private endeavors that help STEM career professionals, who have no traditional training or teaching in their backgrounds, transition their industry experience, knowledge and skills to students and teachers inside and outside of the classroom.

The following witnesses testified before the Committee:
Dr. Michael Beeth, Professor, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

Mrs. Christine Sutton, Secondary Math Teacher, Virgil I. Grissom High School, Huntsville City Schools, Alabama

Ms. Robin Willner, Vice President, Global Community Initiatives, Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs, IBM Corporation

Mr. Jason Morrella, President, Robotics Education and Competition Foundation

Dr. Jennifer Jones, Principal Clinical Scientist, Abbott Vascular