There’s growing concern over the state of STEM education in the U.S, and rightly so. Although the nation has made significant progress in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, there is a widening gap between the skills and knowledge required by industry and those possessed by the workforce.
This gap has led to a shortage of skilled workers in the STEM fields, negatively affecting the performance of technology companies, other technology-intensive organizations, and the economy as a whole. Then there’s the “learning gap,” which represents the setback in student progress caused by school closures and other public-health restrictions implemented during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Increased investment by private enterprise in public STEM education is one way to address this issue – and it has great potential to serve the needs of marketers.
Indeed, private enterprise can play a significant role in supporting STEM education through means as varied as direct donations of funds and tools, apprenticeships, and sponsorships of programs that generate new or better STEM learning opportunities. But such initiatives can help with more than just filling the labor pipeline with more and better-qualified science, tech, and engineering workers. They can also burnish corporate reputations, improve brand awareness, and even prime a future generation of consumers to incorporate technology products into their daily lives, both at home and at work. By investing in STEM education, companies can strengthen their competitive positions.
WHY ARE SOME OF THE WORLD’S LARGEST COMPANIES MARKETING TO TEACHERS AND STUDENTS?
In recent years, Fortune 500 companies have increasingly recognized the importance of significant investments in education. These corporations have come to realize that investment in education is not only a part of corporate social responsibility but also a strategic imperative that can pay dividends, not only for shareholders but for communities, workers, and the environment as well. There are various reasons for such investments: a new focus on ESG (environment, sustainable, governance) or SRI (socially responsible investing), future talent and skills development, developing a company’s brand, and even developing a more sophisticated and skilled future audience.
Take, for example, the investments that pharmaceutical developer Regeneron has made in recent years. It has partnered with The Society of Science to host the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), which encourages and supports students from across the globe to develop innovative scientific and engineering research. While celebrating the scientific achievements of the 40 finalists, Regeneron’s co-founder, President and Chief Scientific Officer, George Yancopoulos, told a powerful story that wonderfully captures the need for developing the connective tissue between the business world and students (start at the 24:26 mark for this remarkable story).
As the story goes, a young Yancopoulos, competed in the Science Talent Search competition and surprised even himself by becoming a finalist and winner along with other top students from across the US. Eventually, he and another one of these students founded Regeneron, which has developed one of the leading treatments for blindness, amongst several other FDA-approved drugs. Then years later, when Yancopoulos and Regeneron sponsored the Science Talent Search, he met an elderly gentleman by the name of Don Harless – who was the former president of the Science Talent Search and was the person who handed Yancopolous his award in 1976. As it turned out, Don had started to go blind around that same time, and years later, when his condition worsened, he was prescribed a new medicine that miraculously helped him regain his vision and quality of life. The inventor of the drug was none other than George Yancopoulos and Regeneron!
Can you imagine that because of your company’s direct investment in the development and prosperity of young minds, one of the students participating in your program eventually cures a disease that you suffer from? This is not a Hollywood story, but it is the story of the Society for Science and the founding of Regeneron. The direct investment into the best and brightest minds not only creates a halo effect for Regeneron’s brand but directly impacts the organization’s future prosperity in terms of talent development and discovery – both central functions for growth in the pharmaceutical industry.
Another example is Verizon’s $200 million investment over the past five years. in education initiatives that focus on digital inclusion, STEM education, and teacher training. These initiatives sought to bridge the digital divide and prepare students for the jobs of the future – many of which will be needed by Verizon to fill positions in an ever-changing technological landscape that requires very specific skills and knowledge.
Other Fortune 500 companies that have made significant investments in education include Microsoft, which has spent $75 million over a five years span to support computer science education, and AT&T, which has invested $600 million in its Aspire program, which aims to improve student success rates and increase graduation rates. These are but a few examples of the growing awareness that investing in education is a business imperative.
The case for investing in education is compelling, and its benefits are far-reaching. By supporting schools and universities, these companies are creating a pipeline of talent that is better equipped to navigate the complexities of the modern world. By building strong partnerships with educational institutions, companies can also gain access to cutting-edge research and development opportunities that can give them a competitive edge. And by supporting initiatives that target underprivileged communities, they enhance their CSR initiatives by helping to reduce inequality and promote social justice.
BUILDING YOUR BRAND FROM THE GROUND (YOUTH) UP
Investing in education is also a powerful way for companies to build their brand reputation and win customer loyalty. Take, for example, Google’s education strategy that supports every interested private and public school district in the world with free email services and digital tools. Students are so familiar and comfortable with Google apps for education that they are likely to continue to use these services for years to come (currently, hundreds of millions of students use Google Classroom). Google has created the coveted win-win-win scenario: students get digital tools to enhance their education, school districts, and universities save precious resource dollars, and Google firmly establishes its brand with millions of future customers.
Another such example is IBM, which has long been a leader in education innovation. The company has invested in a variety of programs aimed at promoting STEM education, including the P-TECH (Pathways in Technology Early College High School) program. P-TECH is a partnership between IBM and public schools that provides students with a six-year program that combines high school and college education with real-world work experience. Graduates of the program are well-prepared for careers in the technology industry and are, in fact, guaranteed to be considered for job opportunities at IBM.
HOW TO GET STARTED
Too often, smaller organizations look at the aforementioned investments in education and incorrectly think that these are the type of investments that only massive companies can make. However, this is far from the truth. While the investments of Fortune 500 companies are aimed at making a significant impact, there are many incremental and meaningful steps smaller organizations can take.
As The Global Business Coalition for Education notes in its 2021 report entitled An Untapped Force in Global Education, small and medium-sized businesses around the world are supporting local schools and students through work placement and apprenticeship programs, job shadowing, mentoring, and tutoring – all of which require little to no cash investment from sponsoring businesses Read here for more detail.
At Engineering.com, we understand the importance of investing in education at any stage. ProjectBoard, our sister organization, was developed to enhance STEM and project-based learning by connecting students and teachers with science fair administrators and providing them with a platform for collaboration that makes learning visible to an entire community.
ProjectBoard is the direct result of our investments in STEM education. Here’s one of our most popular articles, written by our founder (and STEM thinker extraordinaire) Frank Baldessarra, that elucidates the need for developing more engineering minds. As Frank describes, engineers are paramount to the future success of society, but even now, students don’t usually start taking focused engineering classes until university. This creates an opportunity for businesses, no matter the size, to step in and provide support – imagine how many students' lives could be changed and how in turn, they could change the world, one engineer at a time.
Supporting STEM education is clearly part of our DNA, and we’re eager to collaborate with organizations in this area to make a difference. These strategic investments in the education and engineering community help brands engage educators and students to develop the youth of today for a better tomorrow.
If you or your company are interested in collaborating with engineering.com to support STEM, contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.