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A Call to Action: Supporting the Next Generation of Innovators and Entrepreneurs

OSTP is working to guarantee all young people access to fulfilling educational opportunities, particularly in the STEM disciplines.

Last month, Americans across the nation celebrated the 30th official observance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a day dedicated to celebrating the dreams that Dr. King had for a more inclusive and equal nation, and his historic and noble effort to turn these dreams into reality. One important part of continuing Dr. King’s effort is guaranteeing access to fulfilling educational opportunities for young people, particularly in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. 

MBK Day 1
Students participate in MBK Day at the Lab at Sandia National Labs in July 2015 in Albuquerque, NM. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Energy.)

As technology continues to assume increasing prominence in our society, STEM skills are becoming more critical than ever. Currently, there are a half-million job openings in the United States in information-technology fields, with thousands more requiring training in STEM or computer science. Despite the importance and pervasiveness of STEM, there is a significant shortage of STEM opportunities for young people, especially young people of color.

Realizing the profound impact that access to STEM education (or lack thereof) can have on the lives of young people, last month the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Student Dream, a comprehensive youth entrepreneurship nonprofit, hosted the I Have a Dream Workshop on Inclusive Youth Entrepreneurship in partnership with the My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) initiative and the White House Council on Women and Girls (CWG). The purpose of the event was to share ideas for improving access to STEM fields. The event brought together a diverse group of young entrepreneurs from Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), business leaders, and community advocates to explore strategies for accelerating young people’s access to and success in STEM, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Preceding this workshop was a roundtable with stakeholders in the STEM ecosystem. These efforts are part of a series of events aimed at integrating opportunities in STEM and entrepreneurship into national and local MBK and CWG efforts.

A panel of student innovators at the “I Have A Dream” Workshop on January 15, 2015. (Photo credit: W3RTech/Digital Grass.)

At the workshop, the White House encouraged individuals and organizations working in STEM, computer science, entrepreneurship, and innovation to share new, specific, and measurable steps that they and their communities are taking in four priority areas:

  1. Exposure – Ensuring that all students have opportunities to participate in engaging and meaningful STEM-based activities that pique the interest of students and inspire students to pursue STEM education and careers. 
  2. Training & Apprenticeship – Enabling young people to successfully transition from the training environment to the labor market by providing opportunities to participate directly in hands-on work.
  3. Job Placement & Entrepreneurship – Employing young people in positions in which they can make use of STEM skills.
  4. Advancement – Combating conscious and unconscious bias and institutional barriers that impede the ability for all young people to rise to leadership and advance professionally in all sectors.

You can share the work you are doing or plan to do in support of these four priority areas by clicking here.

As members of the MBK Task Force, agencies such as the National Science Foundation, through its Historically Black Colleges and Universities Undergraduate Program and Tribal Colleges and Universities Program, have demonstrated their commitment to ensuring that students from Minority Serving institutions have access to programs in these four priority areas. We also encourage local STEM, innovation, and business leaders to connect with their MBK communities and local organizations to help ensure inclusivity in STEM access, education, and careers.

Improving STEM education requires more than merely increasing standardized test scores in math and science. By working to improve and expand STEM-based activities, mentorship, job pathways, and employment opportunities, we can help give all young people—regardless of their background or zip code—a better shot at success, and ultimately come one step closer to achieving Dr. King’s dream.

Students participate in MBK Day at the Lab at Lawrence Livermore National Labs in July 2015 in Livermore, CA. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Energy.)

Marvin Carr is a Policy Advisor at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Kamau Bobb is a Program Director in the Directorate for Computer & Information Science & Engineering at the National Science Foundation.