BALTIMORE – Schools in the University System of Maryland will move forward with Gov. Martin O’Malley’s initiative to encourage students to pursue degrees and careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, according to a Board of Regents meeting Friday.
O’Malley commissioned a task force earlier this year to determine how the state could better promote these disciplines, collectively known as STEM. The group presented its final report, “Investing in STEM to Secure Maryland’s Future,” to the governor in August.
The report noted “Maryland’s strength in STEM fields, but it also recognized that many other states are ahead of us,” said system Chancellor William E. Kirwan at the meeting, held in the recently completed Southern Management Corp. Campus Center at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.
One of the recommendations most emphasized at Friday’s meeting was the integration of STEM studies in grades K-12 to motivate students from an early age.
“We want them to understand the fun of science and its potential for a good career” in the future, said Patricia Florestano, chairwoman of the board’s Education Policy Committee. The committee originally discussed the report on Sept. 16 at Towson University.
Florestano added that it is more difficult to interest students in STEM majors once they have already begun higher education.
The board also approved the recommendation to boost the number of STEM graduates from USM institutions by 40 percent by 2015. The university system now graduates 4,400 students in these disciplines.
To meet this goal, the task force recommended tripling the number of STEM-discipline teachers that Maryland turns out and increasing those teachers’ five-year retention rate from about 50 percent to 75 percent.
Florestano said she recognizes that the university system must also increase the retention rate of students, especially those coming from abroad.
She specifically mentioned graduate students from Asia who come to the state for its top programs and convenient location to Washington. Most tend to return home after graduation, an economic loss for the state.
Many of the task force’s recommendations will not require new funds, a concern given the state’s recent budget cuts, only changes to priorities and enhancement of existing programs, Florestano said.
The system’s push for STEM careers is part of a nationwide plan spearheaded by President Obama to better prepare students for the future, technology-driven, job market. His aim is that America will have more college graduates of STEM programs than any other nation in the world.
“Science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment and our quality of life than it has ever been,” Obama said in April.
In addition, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke about STEM education at the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in Washington Friday.
“It is time that we engage everyone in the scientific community to help move the nation forward,” his prepared text said. “The right STEM strategies have the potential to have an enormous impact.”