Representatives from the government, education and business fields recently gathered in Washington, D.C., to discuss the future of science and math in the country’s schools.
Justin Hartings, a former president of the Washington County Board of Education and member of the Maryland State Board of Education, attended the State-Federal Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Education Summit June 25 and 26.
The first-of-its-kind event was hosted by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to aid in the development of a new five-year federal STEM education strategic plan to comply with the America COMPETES Act of 2010.
Every state and all but one U.S. territory were represented.
Hartings, who has a background in physics and founded Biaera Technologies in Hagerstown, said everyone at the summit had great enthusiasm for what they were doing.
He heard a lot of common challenges and concerns among the states and territories. One theme was that there is not enough communication between the education and business communities. People were looking for a unified set of goals, so they can develop their own relative to their specific situations.
“A lot of great people out there want to do right by the places they live,” Hartings said. “People in different parts of the country want to help their communities and states the same as we do.”
On the second day of the summit, he and the other Maryland representatives were split into a group with people from Tennessee and Puerto Rico, which is still facing massive challenges following last September’s destructive Hurricane Maria.
Hartings said the group discussed new ways infrastructure could be rebuilt using advances in science and technology to make it more durable.
“It crystallized for me that in the face of great challenges, people will take the opportunity to try to leverage what they’ve learned and use it to improve their communities,” he said.
The summit included a number of speakers, including Ivanka Trump, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and representatives from NASA and the National Science Foundation, among others.
Hartings said Trump carried a message from the top of her father’s administration that it values education, especially regarding science and technology, and it believes those fields will be economic drivers for decades.
Trump also discussed the skills gap in the U.S. workforce and the challenge of being more inclusive and getting more young women involved in STEM-related fields.
The main point of the summit was to give feedback to help inform and structure the new five-year federal STEM education strategic plan.
Hartings said most people he spoke to agreed that the federal government should have a central repository of best practices. He said budgets are tight, but if increasing STEM in education and the business sector are priorities, money has to follow.
Hartings said being in D.C. “pulled out the patriotic genes” and it was great to be at White House and the Old Executive Building, especially representing Maryland.
He said he wants to see opportunities for kids and success and opportunity for their families with the new federal STEM strategic plan.
“I hope what I bring back is worthy of the opportunity of the experience,” Hartings said.