100 CEO’s weigh in on (but don’t actively support) science education, diversity;Islamic women well represented in STEM

This week, Bayer released "Facts of Science Education XII," a survey of topWalk the talk executives in the U.S., conducted by International Communications Research. This year's survey focused on diversity and the need to recruit more students, particularly minority and female students, for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Stay tuned to PharmaManufacturing.com for Paul Thomas' update on the report, and an interview with M.D., chemical engineer and former astronaut, Dr. Mae Jemison, a Mae Jemisonproduct of the Chicago public school system and now CEO of a Houston-based medical device manufacturer. He also interviews Sarah Toulouse, who oversees Bayer's "Making Science Make Sense" program. (Until that article appears, here's local newspaper coverage) But here is a sneak peak at some preliminary findings (which suggest that many corporate executives are only paying "lip service" to the idea of investing in tomorrow's STEM workforce):
  • Executives surveyed give an average grade of C to the U.S. education system for preparing graduates with the skills they need to succeed in STEM careers.
  • They assign an average grade of C+ to the U.S. higher education system for how well it trains women and minorities for STEM careers, but C- to the U.S. pre-college education system.
  • 83% agree that STEM companies have a role to play in ensuring that women and minorities succeed in science and engineering fields. Over 90% believe that STEM companies must support pre-college science education programs. However, just over one third are actually supporting such programs.
Women, STEM and Islam And now for something completely different. (Warning): a long rant. Walt Boyes, Editor of Control magazine, recently posted an item on his interesting "Sound Off" blog: a letter [which, imho, should have been edited] from a young woman, identified as coming from an "Islamic republic." She has been corresponding for some time, via email, with a distinguished expert in process control. In her latest note, she complains that she does not have access to the latest books and that, as a woman, she cannot gain access to industrial facilities, where she could actually work on real problems with real equipment. The letter, if genuine, shows the respect for theoretical knowledge that is instilled in young people in other countries. In the "practical" U.S., professors are more often greeted with the question, "Will that be on the final exam?" than they are with with deep questions about "why." And that's when the students even care. But the unfortunate reference to "an Islamic republic," feeds into any number ofburkah stereotypes and "knee-jerk" responses. One reader wrote in to suggest that the letter was written by a terrorist-in-disguise. Again, assuming that it the letter is genuine, it's extremely unlikely that it could have come from "the" Islamic Republic, where women make up half of the STEM student population (twice the size of that body in the U.S.). Wherever they live, Iranian female engineers, scientists and mathematicians are making their mark on the world. Dr. Sabah Valadkhan of Case Western Reserve University (photo) is only one example. Sabah Valadkhan Take a look at the directories of leading software, life sciences and other companies and within government agencies (e.g., at NASA). So now that we've ruled out "the" Islamic Republic, should this letter writer's problem be attributable to Islam, or to the scarcity of jobs in her country? In fact, female enrollments in STEM programs in many Arab nations are quite respectable, and in some cases, better than they are in the U.S., as this article in Science magazine indicates) Whatever the issues may be in other countries, Islamic or not, the U.S. faces major challenges of its own in attracting a diverse and talented group of students to STEM, and keeping them there. Here's to solving more of these problems, soon. -AMS