- Advocacy & Policy
- Research Center
By Marion C. Blakey
AIA President and Chief Executive Officer
Neal Keating, Kaman’s CEO, said it best at last month’s 10th anniversary awards for the Team America Rocketry Challenge: “As an industry and as a nation, we couldn’t be more proud of you.” He wasn’t just talking about the several hundred students who were in the audience but the more than 60,000 students who have been a part of TARC over the last decade.
If you haven’t had an opportunity to attend TARC, take a look at the video from this year’s contest. It catches the infectious enthusiasm of the participants in a way that words just can’t. We also can’t talk about TARC without saluting our partners and sponsors including the National Association of Rocketry and 25 member companies. We couldn’t do it without them.
The winning teams received $73,000 in scholarships and prizes this year. This includes $30,000 in scholarships from Lockheed Martin Corporation. The team from Madison West High Wisconsin will be climbing on board a jet in July courtesy of Raytheon Company for a trip to the Farnborough Air Show for an international competition with French and English rocketry teams.
TARC is doing its part to help turn around the STEM crisis for our nation and industry. But there’s more work to be done. A front page article in USA Today in May painted another bleak picture of achievement for STEM education. According to a new federal government report, eighth graders’ performance in science tests was lackluster between 2009 and 2011.
It makes one ask what gives at a time when the administration, Congress and the business community are clearly committed to improving the nation’s workforce pipeline. President Obama has been clear on his views that education, manufacturing and our economic recovery are closely tied together. On more than one occasion he’s said, “We’re not going to win the future if we don’t make these investments.” I couldn’t agree more.
The aerospace and defense industry probably has more at stake in building the pipeline of our next generation of workers than other sectors just by virtue of the fact that much of our work for the Defense Department requires a national security clearance. Our talent needs to be home grown.
In fact, the industry contributes more than $160 million annually to STEM programs to do just that.
The statistics on our workforce demographics show that we have some real challenges ahead of us. According to the 2011 Aviation Week Workforce Study, 23 percent of the workforce will be eligible to retire in two years. Women and minorities are underrepresented in our workforce. Approximately 70,000 engineers graduate each year and only 44,000 are eligible for aerospace careers. And you’ve got to believe that industries from Detroit and Hollywood to Silicon Valley are eyeing the same graduates we are.
Continued investment in programs like TARC will pay off. In a recent survey of TARC alumni, 92 percent of participants said they would encourage a friend to pursue careers in STEM-related fields, and four out of five respondents said TARC has had a positive impact on their course of study.
“We all really like physics and engineering, and we know this experience will impact our future studying,” said Suzanne Hanle, one of the winning team members and a junior at Madison West High School.
That’s just what we wanted to hear.