Hailed as this generation’s “Sputnik moment,” science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education is slotted to receive $3.4 billion in President Obama’s 2012 budget request. The President’s “Winning the Future” strategy includes $13 billion in overall investment to stimulate innovation. The many voices calling for more rigorous STEM education in the United States range from the National Academies of Science to the board rooms of industry, the halls of Congress, and the nation’s military leadership.

Fueled by the accelerating rate of science- and technology-based innovations, and unsatisfactory U.S. benchmarks on international university (percent of STEM graduates) and K-12 education (math and science scores) performance, STEM is the investment President Obama is asking for among other funding trade-offs.

The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), states that primary and secondary (K-12) STEM education include mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, engineering, environmental science, and geology. PCAST avers that STEM education will help produce the capable and flexible workforce needed to compete in a global marketplace; however, its narrow classical education definition misses the mark in terms of how STEM fuels innovation.

In the United States, science- and technology-based innovations have contributed an overwhelming proportion of economic growth to our national economy and in per capita income since the beginning of the 20th century. The STEM workforce transcends the mere 5% of jobs usually categorized as “STEM” by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For example, arts and “middle-skill” jobs are not typically counted as part of the STEM workforce but require knowledge and understanding of science, technology, engineering and math in their practice:

(1) Of the two million U.S. arts jobs requiring significant technology proficiency: 10% are architects; 11% are fine artists, art directors and animators; 7% are producers and directors; and 7% are photographers. The products of these disciplines represent 6.4% of the U.S. economy and over $126 billion annually in revenue from foreign trade. Read more at Arts in the Workforce.

(2) The Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University estimates that approximately seven million “middle-skill” job openings will be filled by workers with an associate’s degree or occupational certificate between now and 2018. Students who obtain an engineering certificate from a technical or community college earn an average income of $46,596.00 and those who hold a certificate in a health related field earn a median salary of $46,000.00. Read more at Pathways to Prosperity.

STEM, therefore, deserves special status in terms of how we define related workforce and educational practice—and thus concomitant funding. Albert Einstein once said, “You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew.” If we are to “out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world,” as President Obama has proclaimed, we must ask: What is missing in the innovation agenda?

The answer is the arts.

The separation between the arts and science, technology, engineering and mathematics is artificial and relatively new in terms of human history. All of the disciplines of science, engineering and mathematics are born of Mother Art. And, she has somehow lost touch with her children.

A grassroots movement has emerged, connecting STEM and the Arts with acronyms such as TEAMS and STEAM. In South Korea, the Ministry of Education recently announced that its innovation agenda will be buttressed by investments in STEAM—STEM and the ARTS—not just STEM. In the U.S., the National Science Teachers Association and the Arts Education partnership both have STEM and arts integration on their professional development agendas. Career and Technical Education (CTE) initiatives in Ohio, Texas, Florida, Maryland, and California are pursuing similar STEAM initiatives to deliver students to higher education and workers to industries ranging from the defense department to Disney.

When Winston Churchill was asked to cut arts funding for the war effort, he asked: “Then what are we fighting for?” Similarly, as we begin this journey of making sacrifices and investing in education and research we should ask: What is the role of the arts in innovation? What is the role of the arts in wealth creation? What is the role of the arts in creating jobs? What is the role of the arts in national security? What is the role of the arts in defining who we are as Americans? And, what is the role of the arts in STEM initiatives?

Michael Lesiecki from MATEC Networks in Arizona explains, “Our industry partners are seeking a more entrepreneurial type of knowledge worker… one who understands the creative and innovation processes. I think this is why we need to integrate STEM and the arts.” Community College and high school CTE programs should target STEM initiatives including grants to build STEM consortia and networks, teacher recruiting and professional development, CTE-STEM-ARTS integration and online learning. A special emphasis should be placed on the intersection of network and information technology (NIT) with the arts, cyber security, games and simulations, health, energy, transportation, environmental science, physical science and health science.

Model TEAMS initiatives include Valencia Community College arts and entertainment program, Indian River State College, Clark Magnet High School, Orlando Tech gaming, and Ohio’s TEAMS model. A key differentiator for CTE will be to emphasize a systems perspective including movement through the process of concept, design, implementation and operations (CDIO) in relevant technical and engineering programs.

CTE programs should work to organize knowledge into a system-of-systems similar to Marcopa Community College’s eSyst—an emerging model of systems technicians displacing antiquated electronics programs. Learn more at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology CDIO program, the Society for Design and Process Science, and the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering.

Middle- to high- skill workforce education initiatives should be emphasized in CTE, including a greater focus on adopting practices, professional development and curricula from the NSF Advanced Technology Education programs. Learn more about these high rigor CTE-STEM programs at the upcoming Hi-TEC conference, NSF ATE program grant site or at ATE Centers online.


Jim Brazell is a technology forecaster, public speaker and strategist focusing on innovation and transformation. Since 2003, Jim has authored several emerging technology forecasts and briefs in addition to consulting on international technology innovation strategies in Portugal and the U.S. In October of 2011, Jim will deliver the keynote speech for the National Career Pathway Network conference in Orlando, Florida. Jim’s mentor and collaborator is Dr. (Col.) Francis X. “Duke” Kane who was recognized in March of 2010 as a catalyst of the global positioning system (GPS) among other achievements. Jim and Duke are the co-founders of spaceTEAMS in San Antonio, Texas, targeting the first person to walk on Mars to be from San Antonio.