Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Aimee's First Visit to the White House - Obama Wants Local Companies and Schools to Learn from Each Other

“Fighting a forest fire with 1000 eye droppers.” That’s how David Washington, acting CEO of Change the Equation, a non-profit, described the current effort to improve STEM (science, technology, education and mathematics) education in the United States.

There are hundreds of local and grassroots programs around the country addressing the nation’s need for improving STEM education, by companies and universities and non-profits through federal grants.

But no one knows who they are, or much about each other and as a result, there are no role models. No one wants to reinvent the wheel and without the wheel there are a lot of companies with money to spend and no one to help them. That’s a quandary my company would like to have.

This discussion was part of a larger meeting at the White House yesterday about President Obama’s science education initiative called Educate to Innovate. The Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP) talked briefly about the work the president is doing which includes:

Creating a National Discussion about the need for improvement in STEM education by referencing it in his speeches and conversations with industry and other stakeholders.

Making the White House a Science Education Role Model – President Obama held an astronomy night at the White House recently, Michelle Obama attended the finals of DOE’s National Science Bowl this month, science is now part of the annual Easter Egg hunt, and the White House is planning its first ever Science Fair.

Convincing Business and Industry to Get More Involved in educating the next generation of scientists and engineers, both at the grassroots and the state levels.

Providing Support to States so they can Improve Science and Engineering Education through an array of grants and special programs.

Identifying Corporate STEM Education Role Models and sharing what they do right with other organizations who want to help.

A couple of hundred businesses, non-profits, teachers and other STEM stakeholders were invited, including myself as a representative of the USA Science & Engineering Festival.

So all the pieces are in place. Science is Cool again. Our president says so. But how do we translate that into business/education partnerships that change kids’ lives. That raise the next generation of scientists and engineers? As a marketer I can tell you – start here:

Science has a Marketing Problem.

Approximately 30 million children a month watch PBS and other media and they need to be exposed to more science. Many of them don’t think “Science is Cool” and we need to find ways to convince them that it is. We need more science programming. We also need people who kids turn to as role models to tell them that science is cool.

Science needs a Campaign Selling Science

Some companies have already begun to push science with their employees. For instance, Bentley Systems, an international software development company launched a program 18 months ago where it gave every employee $250.00 a year to spend on science education with their local schools. So far about $60,000 has been spent by employees around the world.

Time Warner Cable has pledged to spend $100 million to get more students involved in science and a national Public Service Announcement Campaign is planned to make science cool again. Ford Motor Company is very active in K-12 education and becoming more involved in STEM.

But it’s not enough, and I guarantee you that we’ll never hear about any of them.

Marketing 100 and Then Some

Fellow marketers I can hear you shaking your heads a long with me – Guess what guys you need marketing. You need communications. You need to create a strategic research and communications plan and get out there find out what corporations are doing – what works and what doesn’t – what is paid for by federal government grants and what are companies ponying up.

Say nothing of the fact that someone should have tracked this all along. We’ve got a president who wants to improve science education. There’s a White House mandate.

Grassroots is fabulous but grassroots never gets coverage. I worked all of last year with a wonderful group of people all lovers of science called the Coalition for Public Understanding of Science – hundreds of science projects across the nation.

But when it came to communications the projects were supposed to do it themselves locally and then nationally. And the fact is they didn’t. It was a volunteer army. And volunteers get the job done – they don’t tell the world about it.

Science needs national events. Larry Bock, who is pulling together the first USA Science & Engineering Festival is a visionary. Science needs others like him. And all these businesses who want to do something need to support this work.

One woman put it quite succinctly when she asked: What’s my to-do list after this meeting?

Science needs a plan to make it cool again and an army of advocates out there talking it up. Without that, we’ll just have a lot of dedicated people who want to help and do - but sans the attention it deserves.

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