10-24-2016  12:05 am      •     
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As a senior member of the Science Committee and one of the founders of the House Innovation and Diversity Caucus, I am acutely aware of our nation's need to stay competitive in the global economy. Yet, multiple indicators tell us our nation is falling behind when it comes to world competitiveness in science, technology, engineering and math.

I strongly believe this is because we are not developing all of our nation's human capital to the fullest extent possible. This challenge inspired my commitment to ensure that members of underrepresented minorities have greater opportunities to enter – and succeed in – the science, technology, engineering and math (or STEM) fields.

Current workforce trends demonstrate that Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and other minorities are not entering STEM fields at rates proportionate to their numbers in our population. Most recent NSF data reports that, of all scientists employed in this country, nearly 75 percent are White. A pitiful 3.5 percent of engineers are Black, and 3 percent are Hispanic. Despite all the progress the United States has made in computing, technology and health science, we are still not developing the full pool of potential scientists, researchers and innovators!

Highlighting and addressing the need for diversity in the 21st Century workforce is a goal shared by my colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus this session. With their support, Congress has initiated or enhanced several federal programs this year, designed to expand our nation's STEM talent pool.

Research shows that the pipeline to the STEM professions starts breaking down for minorities in the K-12 classroom. Research has shown that a well-trained teacher can make the difference between a student's success and failure in math and science.

Recognizing this, I co-sponsored legislation that seeks to create 10,000 new teachers able to touch 10 million young minds. This bill boosts incentives for college students to pursue math and science teaching degrees and later teach in underserved schools. Ultimately, it aims to increase the number of highly qualified math and science teachers in schools, which suffer from a shortage of well-prepared teachers. It also authorizes $1.5 billion for federal scholarships and continuing education programs for current math and science teachers.

Furthermore, my CBC colleagues and I championed legislation that increases the National Science Foundation's focus on diversity at the collegiate level. A bill recently passed by the House directs federal researchers to report on the participation of under-represented groups in science, math and technology fields. They must also offer an annual plan describing how federal funds will be used to encourage more women and minorities to pursue science careers.

This bill further provides special consideration for minority serving institutions and historically black colleges and universities competing for grants. These colleges and universities produce an impressive number of minority scientists disproportionate to their level of resources. So it is imperative that we help support these institutions that help keep us competitive.

Finally, I have also worked through the Science committee to craft measures that encourage and support new researchers. One act, passed in the House, creates a new grant program for scientists and engineers in the early phases of their careers. These new researchers are the pioneers who discover the new technologies that improve our economy and quality of life. The prospect of steady funding ensures that they will get to see their studies and research through to a successful completion.

By supporting such legislation and conducting outreach, my CBC colleagues and I are striving to make lasting and long-needed progress on this critical Innovation Agenda. In October, Congressman Al Green and I will bring education and technology leaders to my home district of Dallas. There, we will discuss the skills needed for everyone to contribute to and benefit from the innovation-based economy.

Whether investing in research for the future, offering scholarships to tomorrow's teachers or improving K-12 science and math education, we are continually seeking and finding ways to enhance this nation's ability to compete and innovate.



U. S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson is a Democrat from Texas.

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