To win the future, you have to start in middle school

Last week, we were discussing with Santiago Ceria about some of the differences between the US and

Last week, we were discussing with Santiago Ceria about some of the differences between the US and Argentina. We briefly touched on the subject of his recent blog post, the need in both countries to boost the number and quality of science and engineering professionals.

In the US, they are taking the matter very seriously. Just take a look at Obama’s recent State of the Union address. It’s available online and from the White House site. In that speech, Obama set a goal of preparing 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, over the next 10 years. Just the priorities defined by picking those four fields are revealing. This is a key step of the race to “win the future”, as Obama defines it.
I was also struck but another component of that same strategy when I attended the first “Science and Engineering Festival” (, last year in Washington DC. Over two days, visitors of the festival had access to dozens of booths hosted by US Agencies (from NASA to the EPA or the Department of Energy), private corporations (from Lookheed Martin to the Science Channel), and Universities. It was a fascinating experience, where kids could interact and explore science on a fun and educational environment. There were maglev train prototypes, NASA spacesuits and rovers, energy efficient generators and much more.
As a father of two teenage boys, I am convinced that exposure to events like that one makes kids more aware of the choices available to them. It also makes engineering “cool” and real, and not something just for nerds of too difficult and not worth the effort.
I don’t think this is a race of the US against other countries, like China or India, as sometimes it is portrayed. This is a race of all of us against ourselves. It’s a race run in Argentina against its own demons, and a race in the US against its own past and future. It’s a race where we can all learn from the other participants, and hopefully all win!

In any case, it is clear to me that to be successful in increasing the number of engineers and scientists in any country, it is important to start with kids at a very young age. Developing excellent middle and high school professors and exposing kids to the challenges and opportunities that the XXI century brings are two excellent places to get started.

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