The Center for American Progress hosted an event entitled “Investing in the Future: Higher Education, Innovation, and American Competitiveness,” and included leaders in industry, higher education, science and financial services. Drew Faust, President of Harvard University, reported that now many young students are leading the way in innovation, and that in the last year alone Harvard applied to 197 new patents and launched 10 new companies. It was argued by several panelists that the US is able to lead in innovation in large part due to its focus on the humanities and a liberal arts education, required even for those studying STEM fields, which breeds creativity and teaches students how to think outside the box. While the US is a leader in liberal arts, it ranks 59th in STEM education.  It was argued that the disconnect in STEM education and innovation is causing the US to fall behind in global competitiveness, which it currently is ranked 7th in the world.

There are two areas that the US can address to enhance its global competitiveness. First, it must continue to develop new methods and greater emphasis on STEM education without diminishing its already strong liberal arts programs. The two subject areas must go hand in hand to foster a culture of innovation and knowledge for actual development. There are many ways to do this as subject matters are interconnected and teachers must be creative in using a multidisciplinary approach. Our eKWIP Challenge educational program addresses these issues by combining language arts and the sciences to problem solve current issues. Students should not have to wait until college to connect these fields of study. With eKWIP, we begin making these connections as early as kindergarten and building an early foundation to initiate children’s curiosity in these fields.

We must also educate students on how to make careers in these fields and transform the systems and institutions to allow this. For example, the average age to receive a research grant in the US is 42 years old and most of the grants are very finely focused without room for broad exploration. How do STEM students fund their work before then? And why are we limiting the scope of research, thus reducing space for innovation?   There are many amazing advocates to tackle these issues, and they should be embraced by policy-makers. As panelist and renowned journalist Al Hunt commented, “There is no anti-innovation caucus in Washington.”  This is a bi-partisan issue that will enhance our country’s economy and our national security by elevating the US global competitiveness. The time is now to make these changes so that the US and, most importantly, its youth do not continue to lag behind as developing countries outpace us in education and global competitiveness.