Council hopes push in science, math education will power research
The various facets of the state's research and development community in the early 1960s were so robust that the Research and Development Council of New Jersey was launched not to promote innovation, but to facilitate communication between research-heavy companies spread throughout the state's wealth of suburban areas.
But since that time, innovation engine Bell Labs has shuttered; pharmaceutical companies have hemorrhaged research jobs; and science, technology, engineering and math students at New Jersey high schools have been lured to out-of-state colleges. That's why, 50 years later, the council has taken on a new purpose to promote STEM education and private-sector collaboration with academia as a way to resuscitate the formerly thriving R&D investment climate in New Jersey.
"There was a natural emphasis on STEM in the '60s after Sputnik, because the whole country looked at research as a competitive race between the U.S. and Russia, which drove government policy and school lesson plans to focus on R&D," said Anthony S. Cicatiello, president of the council and chairman of CN Communications, in Newark. "Now, we're seeing some of that urgent interest in STEM come back with the need to compete in this increasingly globalized world of technology and knowledge, and our government system has the flexibility to move policy in that direction again."
According to a 2011 report on state STEM education by the Alliance for Science & Technology Research in America, New Jersey placed 40th nationally in the number of bachelor's degrees in science and engineering its colleges produced in 2007, which Cicatiello said could leave a hole in the 269,000 STEM-related jobs the state will need to fill by 2018.
At the forefront of the effort to narrow that gap is the R&D Council, which has "evolved from awarding one student a scholarship every year to catching as many students in the state as possible, bringing them to our member companies and letting them do a tour of an industry-grade lab," said Kim Case, executive director of the council.
"All of our members have their own STEM higher-education programs, but we wanted to come up with a platform to promote them all, so we've become a one-stop shop for companies, teachers and students to look up those programs," Case said. "We only started it three years ago, but we're hearing from members that it has made a difference in their recruiting efforts."
To prepare New Jersey students to enter the future STEM work force, Case said the R&D Council has taken on a significant role to shape science education in New Jersey by collaborating with the state Department of Education, the Merck Institute of Science Education, Rutgers University and Rowan University to advocate statewide adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards — which is the National Research Council's new framework for elementary and secondary science education that will be launched in spring 2013.
"I think over our next 50 years, we're really going to emphasize the national STEM program, bring it to the public in a more direct way and hopefully introduce R&D programs specifically for New Jersey's industries," Cicatiello said. "We've always recognized the need to keep our best science students here and to bring the best science students in the world to this state, but now we're finally seeing it come full circle with companies, universities and government collaborating on the effort again."