Education is the key to innovation

December 4, 2013

 

By LINDA NOWAK
Business Journal columnist

How do we create new jobs in the Central Valley? One key to successfully growing our employment base is to focus on being innovative: to develop new products, services, processes and technology that make customers’ lives easier, more efficient, healthier and more productive.

But innovation does not always mean new processes and new technology; it can also be redeployment of old activities in innovative ways. Innovation is about finding solutions. The businesses that create the most value for our economy may be in industries that do not even exist today. What will transportation and health care be like in 20 years?

For California to lead the world with innovative products and services, we must have a skilled workforce. Our educational system is the foundation for future innovation and a vibrant economy.

It starts with a strong K-12 system. Our students need to be well prepared in reading, writing, math and science, subjects that build the foundation for them to succeed in college. President Obama recently established the Race to the Top fund to encourage the teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects in K-12 schools. STEM programs are critically important to science and technology innovation and economic growth. This $4 billion fund has been set aside to encourage states to put STEM at the center of their educational priorities, especially for women, girls and other underrepresented groups.

California has some of the best universities in the world when it comes to science, technology, engineering and math. For example, CSU Stanislaus has recently been awarded a five-year, $5.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Hispanic-Serving Institutions program to work cooperatively with San Joaquin Delta College and Merced College in preparing students for math and science majors at CSU Stanislaus.

Once these students transfer to CSU Stanislaus, they are paired with a faculty member and given an opportunity to develop a personalized mentor-mentee relationship. The creation of this mentoring relationship is unusual at any four-year university and focuses on helping our students succeed in their educational experience, both inside and outside the classroom. The grant also sponsors student research projects, travel to math and science conferences, and a science and math tutoring center.

CSU Stanislaus student Darryl Lopez is one of our many STEM success stories. Darryl was born in Stockton and grew up in Ceres. He has been working with professors and other students on a variety of research projects, including a six-week stay in Costa Rica this summer to analyze snail shell density, dissect fish in search of parasites and study crayfish anatomy.

Much of his research was funded by the CSU Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (CSU-LSAMP), a program funded by the National Science Foundation and the CSU Chancellor’s Office to broaden participation in STEM.

Darryl will soon graduate from CSU Stanislaus with a bachelor’s degree in biological science and a concentration in genetics, after which he will move on to a research internship at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Darryl will study vertebrate and invertebrate genome sequencing with Professor Wes Warren.

Central Valley businesses can help promote STEM education, as well as reading and writing, by participating in “impact investing.” Through the workplace, employers can develop programs to provide college scholarships for their employees and their employee’s children. They can sponsor science, math, reading and writing programs in K-12 schools, or they can ask their employees to participate in after-school tutoring programs.

We can all work together to make a difference for our region and the future of our young people. Innovation is the key to global competitiveness, new and better jobs, and a resilient economy. It all starts in the classroom.

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