I had the opportunity to attend the White House Science Fair last week, and I was blown away by the creativity and curiosity of the young men and women who presented their inventions.
The team that really stole the show was a group of 6-year-old Girl Scouts called the ‘“Super Girls” Junior FIRST Lego League Team,’ who showed off a battery-powered robot made of Legos that can turn pages for people who are disabled.
What a truly amazing group of girls! They’re a real inspiration and role model to girls around the country and the world who want to grow up to be the next great entrepreneur or inventor.
But all too often, these girls are the exception, when they should be the rule. Today, simply put, not enough girls and young women are choosing to go into the fields that make up STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the number of computer science degrees awarded to women peaked at 37 percent between 1984 and 1985. Compare this to only 18 percent of the degrees awarded to women in the period between 2008 and 2011, and it is easy to see the dilemma STEM employers are facing today.
This has got to change. We need a public-private partnership to open doors of opportunity to students of all backgrounds, but particularly to girls and young women.
That’s why Cisco has made an enduring commitment to this issue in four key areas.
First, we believe that mentoring girls and young women is absolutely critical. You can’t achieve what you can’t see. So in the United States, Cisco is a founding member of US2020, an initiative that grew out of a partnership with the White House. We’ve committed that 20% of our U.S. workforce will volunteer in support of STEM mentoring by the year 2020. We’ve also launched Girls Power Tech as part of Girls in ICT day, which is on April 23. Under this initiative, nearly 1,000 Cisco employees will mentor 3,000 girls ages 13-18 worldwide in 80 Cisco offices.
Second, we need to prepare and excite students about the Internet of Everything economy. This means technical training programs like the Cisco Networking Academies, which teach students the skills they need to find jobs and thrive in the emerging Internet of Everything World. Over the last two decades, more than 5 million students have graduated from this program around the world, obtaining the skills they need to succeed and find a good-paying job in technology.
Third, we need to put technology in the hands of students at an earlier age and to change classroom models to keep up with the times. We believe that every classroom in America should have high-speed Wi-Fi in the next five years. Additionally, the way that teachers teach and students learn is changing. So classroom curriculum has got to keep pace, and there needs to be computer science education that is a regular part of secondary school coursework.
And, finally, we have to make sure that the doors of opportunity are open to students of all backgrounds. Cisco works with tremendous non-profit partners, such as Citizen Schools, MIND Research, and the Girl Scouts, to make sure that STEM education isn’t limited to the few, but is open to students from all socio-economic backgrounds.
Looking forward, as the Internet of Everything blossoms and changes the world around us – from the clothes we wear, to how we move around cities, to how education and health care are provided – it will create millions of new jobs, in areas that we can scarcely imagine today.
We need to make sure that these opportunities are open to students of all backgrounds. Addressing this problem won’t happen with a wave of the wand. It will take a generational effort to change the ways we think about and approach these issues.
The White House Science Fair is a critical part of bringing attention to this issue. It’s now up to all of us in the world of technology to not just talk the talk, but to walk the walk as well so that we can help create a generation of “Super Girls” ready, willing and able to enter the technology industry.