On October 7th President Obama signed into law the STEM Education Act (Public Law No: 114-59; originally introduced as HR 1020). Introduced by House Science, Space, and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Rep. Elizabeth Etsy (D-CT), this legislation has specific importance to the computing community as it expands the federal definition of STEM to include computer science. There has been an ongoing concern that with constrained budgets, research agencies could possibly exclude computer science and related fields from future STEM education efforts; this is because CS doesn’t fall perfectly into any of the areas that make up the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math). This legislation specifically closes that potential loophole and reconfirms the field’s STEM status at the federal level.
Additionally, the legislation amends the NSF Noyce Master Teaching Fellowship program to allow teachers in pursuit of Master’s degrees to participate in the program. According to the bill’s sponsors, “this would allow more teachers the opportunity to compete for the grants.” As well, computer science is added as a subject for the scholarship program. Lastly, the legislation directs the National Science Foundation (NSF) to continue to award competitive merit-reviewed grants to support informal STEM education.
This is a big win for the computing education community as it shows policy makers in Congress look favorably on the field. Also, for practical reasons, it makes sure CS can take part in any STEM initiatives the federal research agencies initiate. It’s great to see the field be recognize as so important to the nation’s STEM education investment.