On Wednesday, the House Science Committee’s Subcommittee on Research and Technology, held a hearing titled, “STEM and Computer Science Education: Preparing the 21st Century Workforce.” The hearing brought experts from the computer science community, representing industry, academia, and policy areas, to, “highlight the importance of STEM and computer science education to meeting a wide range of critical current and future workforce needs.” The hearing was also an attempt to highlight various initiatives happening around the country to, “educate and inspire students to pursue careers in STEM and computer science,” fields.
In her opening statement, Chairwoman Barbara Comstock (R-VA) pointed out that a, “STEM educated workforce is necessary for innovation and for ensuring U.S. economic strength, competitiveness, and national security. As demand for skilled STEM workers continues to grow, the U.S. must work to fill those employment needs, especially with the looming retirements of the baby-boomer generation.” To highlight that, the Chairwoman used as an example the critical need the country has for trained cybersecurity professionals. Chairman Lamar Smith, Chair of the full Science, Space, and Technology Committee, further drove home these points, in his own opening statement, saying that the country needs to, “capture and hold the desire of our nation’s youth to study science and engineering so they will want to pursue these careers. More graduates with STEM degrees means more advanced technologies and a more robust economy. A well-educated and trained STEM workforce promotes our future economic prosperity.”
The Democrats on the committee were in full agreement with their colleagues. Subcommittee Ranking Member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) said the country needs, “to work to ensure that all students no matter where they grow up, their background, their race, or their sex, have the opportunity to become educated in computer science and all STEM fields.” Echoing that statement, the full committee’s Ranking Member, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), stated, “computer scientists are creating innovative products and services that will affect all of our lives. These innovations cannot meet the needs of society if they are developed without insights from women and underrepresented minorities.”
The witnesses at the hearing represented the CS and the larger STEM community quite well. Representing the CS education community was Pat Yongpradit of Code.org. As well, there was Dee Mooney, executive director of the Mircon Technology Foundation, who provided an industry perspective. James Brown, executive director of the STEM Education Coalition (a group which CRA is a member), provided a more general STEM perspective for the hearing. And finally, A. Paul Alivisatos, Vice Chancellor for Research, and Professor of Chemistry and materials science & Engineering, University of California, Berkeley, provided a higher education viewpoint for the hearing.
The witnesses fielded many questions from the committee’s membership, with most being related to what is needed for preparing students to be ready for future jobs. Chairwoman Comstock asked Mr. Yongpradit how to navigate pushback from schools on new education mandates, such as incorporating CS into graduation requirements. His response was that school must be responsive to the society’s needs and that most schools understand that and are devoting resources when possible. There was also a question from Ranking Member Lipinski about what specific skills the witnesses were referring to that students would need to succeed in the future workforce. Mr. Brown used the example of an auto repair mechanic, who uses a computer interface to assess what the repair needs are of a car; referring to this as middle skill job, he pointed out that most people would not consider it a STEM job, or a one that requires STEM skills to perform. As well, there was discussion of an event that several members of the committee had attended earlier in the week by Girls Who Code, a group dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology. Many of the committee’s members, including Chairwoman Comstock, spoke about how it demonstrated the efforts by the community to improve the representation of women in the field, as well as to inspire students to pursue STEM careers.
All in all, it was a highly informative hearing, with members of both parties taking an active interest. The Science Committee has certainly taken up STEM education preparedness, and computer science education specifically, as an issue of concern. That’s good news, and the CS community should expect this engagement and interest from the committee’s leadership to continue into the future.