The future of the United States depends on the ongoing education of its citizens, according to officials in the U.S. Department of Education.
To drive that point home, Secretary Arne Duncan and senior leaders embarked on the third annual back-to-school bus tour this fall, engaging communities nationwide in conversations about school reform and college affordability and completion.
The tour, which kicked off Sept. 12 in Redwood City, Calif., culminated at Virginia Commonwealth University Sept. 24 in a town hall meeting with Debra Saunders-White, Ed.D., deputy assistant secretary. The discussion focused on increasing career interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Health (STEM-H) studies.
“We are living in a global space,” Saunders-White said. “And having said that, clearly we need to be first in the world again in terms of being able to produce the type of intellectual talent that’s needed to sustain this United States and to keep our national security intact.
“Not only do we have to engage students at all levels, but we need to ensure that every American has opportunity for a better life.”
Town hall attendees included students and faculty from the schools of Engineering and Education and the College of Humanities and Sciences. Six graduate students who took part in the Education Department’s Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need also spoke about their experiences. Read more about their experiences here.
Discussion topics focused on funding, research and students with varying abilities who struggle in first- and second-year STEM-H courses.
Preparing K-12 students before they ever get to college is key to successfully seeing them through the STEM-H curriculum, Saunders-White said.
“Students who have come in with a strong desire to be engineers, come in that first year and you know what? They don’t make it through in the numbers that we would like,” she said. “And so therefore what happens is typically they stay in STEM, but maybe not just with engineering. And so there’s got to be some thought about how we really address these first-year programs.”
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