U.S. Congressman Bill Foster visits Aurora University to discuss 21st Century STEM Competitive Jobs Act
On Wednesday, May 29, U.S. Congressman Bill Foster (IL-11) visited the Aurora University campus to meet with educators, university officials and local business leaders regarding STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education.
Congressman Foster’s visit centered on the recently introduced 21st Century STEM Competitive Jobs Act. The legislation would help prepare students for careers in high-demand technical fields by supporting collaboration between schools and employers, and providing competitive grants to school districts that connect students and their coursework with future employers.
Foster, a leading advocate for STEM education, emphasized the importance of streamlining efforts and identifying best practices that will help prepare students with the skills they need to be successful in the workplace. “We are not aligning student training with the available jobs,” he said. “We need to beef up STEM education.”
The STEM fields drive our nation’s innovation and competitiveness; however, recent test scores show that American public school students have fallen behind their international peers in crucial science and mathematics disciplines. Furthermore, fewer U.S. students are pursing undergraduate and graduate degrees in STEM fields.
In the past 10 years, the number of STEM jobs has grown three times faster than non-STEM jobs. And American employers have been forced to look overseas to hire professionals in key STEM fields. This is a national problem with local significance as critical shortages in STEM-prepared workers exist today in Illinois and its Fox River Valley. For more than 100 years, Aurora University has continually transformed its programs and offerings to meet the needs of the nation and the communities it serves. Today, that takes the form of a growing commitment to STEM education.
In response to this challenge, Aurora University is currently working on the development of the John C. Dunham STEM Partnership School on the AU campus. The multi-district school will serve approximately 200 students from four area public school districts (Aurora East, Aurora West, Indian Prairie and Oswego) and train teachers who will return to their home school districts as leaders in mathematics and science education. The school’s curriculum will be aligned to new educational standards and will ignite children’s interest in mathematics and science and prepare them to become the next generation of science and engineering leaders.
Earlier, in 2009, AU and its community partners also established the Mathematics and Science Education Center of Aurora University. The center is creating an innovative model for mathematics and science education in a diverse urban community, which can be replicated across the country. The center’s programs include bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics and science education, workshops and institutes for teachers, and after-school and summer programs for students.
Sherry Eagle, Executive Director of the Institute for Collaboration at Aurora University, expressed how fortunate AU has been to be able to work within a community that respects everyone’s efforts. “It is important to have the collaboration of people and content,” she said.
Ruth Ramos is a teacher in the Aurora East School District 131 and a graduate of the first cohort at AU to prepare teachers in STEM content and pedagogy. She spoke on the importance of partnerships and said working with local business leaders to become aware of the job opportunities in the Aurora area has been instrumental in creating her curriculum and preparing her students for the future. “I connect everything I do in the classroom to what is going on in the world,” Ramos said.
The discussion concluded with thoughts from business leaders who have been active in the local STEM initiatives. They expressed the importance of preparing graduating students for the jobs that are available. “We are competing globally now,” said Bill Spitzig, Global Operations Manager at Cabot Microelectronics Corporations. “And we need talented STEM people locally to fill positions.”
“We look forward to applying for the grants that come out of the 21st Century STEM Competitive Jobs Act to further our efforts,” said Chetna Patel, Professor of Physical Sciences at Aurora University.
For more information on the John C. Dunham STEM Partnership School, visit stem.aurora.edu.