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Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable (US); National Academy of Sciences (US); National Academy of Engineering (US); Institute of Medicine (US); Fox MA, editor. Pan-Organizational Summit on the US Science and Engineering Workforce: Meeting Summary. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2003.

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Pan-Organizational Summit on the US Science and Engineering Workforce: Meeting Summary.

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IRI Initiative on Precollege Science, Math, and Technology Education in Support of the U.S. Science and Engineering Workforce


F. M. Ross Armbrecht, President, Industrial Research Institute (IRI), James S. Clovis, Educational Outreach Committee, Industrial Research Institute (IRI)

The Industrial Research Institute (IRI) is a nonprofit organization of 235 leading industrial companies. These companies—representing such industries as aerospace, automotive, chemical, computer, and electronics—carry out over 60 percent of the industrial research effort in the United States' manufacturing sector, employ some 500,000 scientists and engineers, and account for at least 30 percent of its gross national product. IRI's mission is to enhance the effectiveness of technological innovation in industry.

As the organization that represents the largest body of private-sector research employees in the United States, the IRI and its member companies stand to benefit from high-quality math and science education. The benefits stem from a high-quality workforce and a public that is able to make informed decisions regarding the development and use of science and technology.

The IRI realizes that K-20 science, math, and technology education are the keys to achieving a viable workforce. We have long been a supporter of precollege science and math education. In its Position Statement on U.S. Economic and Technology Policy (Section 3), the IRI recognizes the need to “[p]romote strong collaboration between universities and industry to help improve pre-college education.”

Additionally, in the early 1990s, the IRI developed a position statement on pre-college education that recognized the need to “provide a solid science and mathematical foundation for young Americans. This understanding will prepare them to become citizens who can make informed choices on technical and environmental issues in an increasingly complex society. Quality education is essential for maintaining high employment levels, a high standard of living, and technological leadership.” This position statement is reproduced at the end of this document.

In support of the positions just described the IRI has carried out a number of initiatives: We recognize outstanding efforts of member companies in support of pre-college math and science education; we hosted a conference in cooperation with the National Science Resources Center (NSRC) at an IRI national meeting in support of inquiry-based science education; we have spread best practices among member companies at a regional level; and, most recently, we have begun a major effort in support of programs to improve the quality and quantity of teachers of science, math, and technology at the K-12 level.

To understand the forces that influence the choice of science and engineering as careers, one can turn to both published and anecdotal information. In 1968 Spencer Klaw published The New Brahmins, Scientific Life in America. Most of the book talks about what it's like to be a scientist. In the first chapter, however, he describes those who actually become scientists and, presumably, engineers. His comments have stayed with me these past 34 years because they described my personal situation to a “T.” He based his comments on such publications as The Professional Scientist, released in 1962 and Graduate Education in the United States, released in 1960. He states, “Americans who go to graduate school and become scientists tend to differ in one sociologically significant respect from those who become doctors or business executives or corporation lawyers. As a rule they come from poorer families.” A 1960 survey indicated that something over half of the members of the American Chemical Society (including more than half of those with Ph.D.'s) had fathers who were manual or subprofessional, white-collar workers. A 1948 Fortune magazine article noted that “The broadest generalization that may be made is that scientists tend to come from lower income levels.” In The Origins of American Scientists, published in 1952, the authors pointed out that in the late 1920s and early '30s colleges like Kalamazoo, Hope, and DePauw were turning out many more scientists, in proportion to their size, than Harvard and Yale. They argued that one reason for this was that many of these students were from farms or small towns and “almost literally had a choice between the test tube and the plow.” One of the reasons for the choice of the science career, Klaw argued, was that one could aspire to an advanced degree in science without worrying about the funding since graduate schools covered the needs with teaching assistantships and scholarships.

More recent studies of the origins of American scientists and engineers are hard to come by. The NSF does publish data on ethnic background of scientists in its SESTAT data base (see These data show, not surprisingly, that people of Asian origin make up a greater percentage of the science community than of the overall workforce and that the reverse is true for African-Americans. The latest reference on social origins I could find was an article by Kenneth Hardy, “Social Origins of American Scientists and Scholars,” Science (August 9, 1974), pp. 497-506. Hardy has studied correlations of students obtaining Ph.D.'s with their geographic, religious, and college origins. The studies are interesting, but the data don't go past 1961.

The descriptions given by Klaw suited me perfectly. I spent my early summers working on our family farm and longing for other pursuits. My parents, while educated, were of very modest means. My eight years of education from college through postdoctoral studies probably cost my parents about $1,500. As I noted earlier, Klaw's observations have stuck with me for years and during this time, I've made many personal observations about what causes one to choose science and engineering as a career. I've done this while spending considerable time involved in K-12 education in the public and private sector.

Before I discuss these observations, I would make the recommendation that if one wants to develop policy and action, more up-to-date demographic studies on scientists and engineers are what is needed and not personal observations by former managers of industrial research such as myself. Nevertheless, I would argue that two very important factors in determining one's career directions are socioeconomic background and the peer environment. For students with the requisite aptitude, science and engineering are paths of upward mobility for those with modest means. Moreover, they are fields where meritocracy rules, and thus groups who are discriminated against or who perceive discrimination see their opportunities as greater. This was true in the early and mid-20th century and I would argue is true today.

A second observation, consistent with what Klaw reported, is that youth from more affluent families and also from private schools tend to pursue fields other than science and engineering. There are a variety of reasons for this. In no particular order, their parents can afford to pay for education in fields where scholarships are less available; they are exposed to successful doctors, lawyers, and business people in their daily environment; their high schools expose them to many more choices and also involve them in current social and political issues that cause them to be interested in nontechnical areas. Finally, the required courses in science and math are, by nature, hard work. Bright young students in our better high schools are inundated with opportunities and choices in their daily academic and social life. They have to make choices about where they spend their time. It is only natural that many will do what is necessary to get their science and math grades but not spend the time to really master these subjects.

What the preceding implies to me is that teachers will have to be more creative to interest their students in science and math in competition with other subjects. Certainly, hands-on/active learning curricula are a positive step. I would encourage the listeners/readers to read the works of Sheila Tobias, such as, They're Not Dumb, They're Different and Succeed with Math, to hear recommendations as to how to attract students who won't respond to the classical teaching approach for science and math.

This leads me to how the IRI is approaching the pipeline issue. First, the IRI recognizes that continuous improvement of math, science, and technology education at all grade levels from K-20 and beyond is needed. Moreover, this is recognized as a total systems issue involving curriculum, assessment, professional development, resources, and community involvement. The foundation for the system needs to be a total commitment to success at all levels of society. The IRI is committed to do its part to achieve this goal.

Because the IRI works through its member representatives and emeriti like me, we have to have very targeted initiatives if we are to make any impact at all. We have taken the position, approved by the IRI Board of Directors, that an emphasis on teacher education is the best place for us to place our primary efforts. The Glenn Commission Report, Before It's Too Late, makes the point that “evidence of the positive effect of better teaching is unequivocal; indeed the most consistent and powerful predictors of student achievement in mathematics and science are full teaching certification and a college major in the field being taught.” We believe that this is where the IRI, working through its member companies, can make its greatest impact.

There are two initiatives that the IRI is supporting. The first is to review proposals from organizations that are working on pre- and in-service teacher education, select the best ones, and recommend them to our member companies as worthy of support. These proposals can be viewed on our Web site at The second initiative is the facilitation of a meeting involving a broad cross section of groups working in this area with the following goals:

  • Sharing of information among groups
  • Creating possible cooperation among the groups as appropriate
  • Stimulating those groups who are less active to be more ambitious
  • Getting feedback and advice re how the IRI can best support their efforts
  • Making plans, if appropriate, for a larger stakeholder meeting, including key corporate and private foundations.

The initiatives outlined have been primarily carried out by volunteers from member companies and from our Academic Advisory Council, with support from IRI's limited staff. Because our resources are limited, we have by necessity chosen to focus exclusively on initiatives through which we can make unique contributions. Because we aren't educators, we see our role as one of facilitation and, as an “honest broker” between program purveyors and our member companies, a source of support for high-quality initiatives.

In conclusion the IRI recognizes the pressing need for improving science, math, and technology education in the U.S. in order to have a deeper and better-qualified pool of scientists and engineers for the future workforce. We will continue to work with similarly committed people and organizations, many of whom are in attendance today. We invite others to join these organizations and the IRI to improve our effectiveness through mutual sharing of experience and through closely coupled involvement with industrial partners.



The Industrial Research Institute unites companies engaged in industrial research. The quality of industrial research is critically dependent on a well-educated workforce, and the economic sustainability of a country is critically dependent on the literacy of its citizens. This Statement articulates IRI's position on actions that it believes are required to achieve excellence in K-12 education, with special emphasis on math and science. Many of these recommendations are in support of GOALS 2000, as set and recently reaffirmed by the president, Congress, and the nation's governors.

Pre-college education, K through 12, must provide a solid science and mathematical foundation for young Americans. This understanding will prepare them to become citizens who can make informed choices on technical and environmental issues in an increasingly complex society. Quality education is essential for maintaining high employment levels, a high standard of living, and technological leadership.

The IRI joins its voice with others who stress the need for improvement in K-12 education across the nation, and advocates that implementation of educational goals, such as those articulated in GOALS 2000, not be neglected as a result of the present public attention given to other important national priorities concerning crime, the budget, and health.


For the Education System

Teacher Assessment and Development

  • Require teachers to meet content qualifications for the courses they are to teach.
  • Require students graduating with teaching certification either to have completed a major or to have equivalent assessed education in the area they are to teach.
  • Provide and require regular ongoing professional development opportunities for teachers based on assessment of skills.
  • Foster greater recognition and respect for teachers and the teaching profession.
  • Support the development of national assessment standards for teachers and adhere to them in teacher evaluations.

Facilities and Infrastructure

  • Provide adequate teaching equipment and hands-on facilities.
  • Use computers both as teaching tools and as ongoing hands-on tools for schoolwork.
  • Support the development and use of a national computer network to link teachers with other school systems and facilitate the use of best practices and educational tools.
  • Assure school facilities and an environment that are both safe and conducive to learning.


  • Recognize and utilize National Standards as the cornerstone for curriculum development, assessment, and professional development.
  • Develop, support, and use integrated teaching methods for science, math, reading, writing, and social studies.
  • Utilize teams for educational development of students so that topics are learned in a social and interactive context, i.e., more student-centered learning.
  • Require and foster laboratory-based learning.

External Interactions

  • Involve parents and caregivers in educational activities.
  • Establish linkages with business to assure involvement from its perspective on a regular basis.
  • Involve school boards in the improvement of the system.

For Government and Certifying Groups


  • Increase federal, state, and local funding for teacher development and in-service activities with a focus on subjects to be taught.
  • Modify existing teacher certification programs to allow midcareer professionals in the sciences with some education courses to teach in schools.
  • Expand federal and state funding mechanisms and opportunities that support instructional and laboratory instrumentation.
  • Provide opportunities for teachers to obtain low-cost loans for personal development.
  • Provide funding and incentives for underrepresented groups to become teachers and mentors.


  • Take a leadership role in developing and implementing standards-based K-12 education across the nation.
  • Establish and maintain a systemwide, nationally accessible, on-line library and curricula resources clearinghouse.
  • Define opportunities to use tax incentives to encourage industry and individuals to donate time, equipment, and expertise to the school system as well as hire teachers during the summer.

For the Business Community

Teacher Development and Assessment

  • Provide internships for teachers to allow them access to industry interests and concerns.
  • Develop options for mentoring programs between teachers and industry to ensure a steady stream of technical expertise.
  • Support teacher in-service programs with funding and instructors.


  • Establish school-business partnerships as a method to allow current business information to be a standard part of the curriculum.
  • Develop and implement mechanisms to allow input from business to aid in standards-based curricula development.
  • Support standards-based educational reform.

Facilities and Infrastructure

  • Donate money and equipment to assure state-of-the-art teaching facilities.
  • Provide opportunities, time, and funding for business individuals to be in the classroom and for students to visit business locations.

Business Interaction

  • Establish a network of business and professional organizations to galvanize activity in K-12 pre-college education.
  • Foster and develop networking of IRI member companies to generate best practices in support of pre-college education.


The Industrial Research Institute is an organization of some 235 industrial and service companies working together to enhance the effectiveness of technological innovation in industry. IRI member companies invest over $70 billion annually in R&D, representing more than 60 percent of the nation's privately funded effort. These companies, spanning diverse industries, compete in the global marketplace and provide jobs for more than 10 million of America's workers. Together they generate almost $1.5 trillion in annual sales or 15 percent of the gross domestic product. IRI welcomes the opportunity to discuss its views on the recommendations in this position statement.

Copyright © 2003, National Academy of Sciences.
Bookshelf ID: NBK36376


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