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My Turn: UNH and its partners are building a STEM talent pipeline

The Business and Industry Association’s new economic plan for the state concludes that one of the best investments New Hampshire can make for a prosperous future is to develop a highly skilled workforce, one especially in tune with our burgeoning advanced manufacturing and high-tech sectors.

That’s great news for all of our citizens, from the parents of elementary school students to our most influential business leaders. And that’s because our state’s public universities and colleges are already making great strides in building STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) talent for New Hampshire.

As the BIA plan states, “Research centers, universities, colleges and community colleges are critical to attracting and retaining advanced manufacturing and high technology businesses because they offer a stream of STEM graduates. The need for STEM education within all learning institutions is clear.”

Note that it says, “within all learning institutions.” To those of us in public higher education, that is music to our ears.

While the BIA plan details serious challenges facing our economy – a declining population of 35- to 44-year-olds, a shortage of high-tech workers and a below-average rate of high school graduates seeking college degrees – we are also working more closely with public schools, building partnerships with high-tech businesses, and supporting entrepreneurs with relevant research and training.

Here are some ways the University of New Hampshire is building a STEM talent pipeline with its partners in the University System of New Hampshire, the Community College System of New Hampshire, public schools and businesses:

∎ In 2012, the university system and the community college system committed to doubling the number of STEM graduates by 2025 and expanding statewide STEM education and opportunities.

∎ In October, UNH Manchester launched the STEM Discovery Lab, a hands-on learning community that connects K-12 students and teachers with STEM activities.

∎ The Leitzel Center at UNH is strengthening STEM in public schools with teacher training programs led by our distinguished research faculty. UNH also hosts technology- themed summer camps, including one for girls entering grades 6 and 7.

∎ New statewide collaborations among higher education, private industries and K-12 educators are being created through a National Science Foundation program hosted at UNH. With a five-year, $20 million grant, EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) is strengthening the state’s research capacity.

∎ UNH’s efforts to promote a STEM-trained workforce are also reflected in our innovative partnerships with industry leaders such as Fidelity Investments, Hitchiner Manufacturing and Enterasys.

But as the BIA plan concludes, New Hampshire needs to do even more. The report also sets a goal of having a “high quality, cost effective, lifelong educational system that provides access and affords all residents the same educational opportunities that align with the needs of a robust, innovative, flexible, productive workforce.”

It is a goal we should all applaud, and which will require all sectors – higher education, state government, private industry and nonprofit – to work together.

According to the nearly 200 business leaders and policy experts who created the BIA plan, our success is also vital to our entire state’s prosperity and quality of life. As New Hampshire’s flagship public research university, UNH looks forward to working with the BIA, the state and its citizens to realize a shared vision for the future.

(Mark W. Huddleston is president of the University of New Hampshire.)

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