On Thursday, June 11, 2009, Linda Mills, Corporate Vice President and President, Northrop Grumman Information Systems sector, was honored by the National Capital Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America with its Woman of the Year Award, in conjunction with the council’s Learning for Life initiative. Below are her remarks.

Woman of the Year Award

I am truly honored to be here, but this evening is really about the tremendous achievements of the National Capital Area Council’s Learning for Life and scouting programs. The value of the career guidance and character education provided to our young people through these programs simply cannot be measured. In every respect, encouraging our nation’s young people to reach for their full potential is an honorable and important mission.

As President Obama recently said, “We have an obligation and a responsibility to be investing in our students and our schools.” That’s a pretty strong endorsement, and there is no higher priority for our nation. For me and my colleagues in industry, here’s why.

Across the nation, we are seeing sobering statistics regarding the number of students who express interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers. This nation’s young people are not as inspired to pursue these critical disciplines as in other countries.

The growing shortage of science-based talent in our workplaces and universities is a serious problem for this nation.

Last month, the president announced several new initiatives and investments in science education to members of the National Academy of Sciences. He urged NAS members to think of innovative and creative ways to engage young people in science and engineering. As examples, he cited science festivals and fairs as well as robotics competitions. And he announced a national initiative called “Race to the Top” that is designed to improve student achievement, moving them from the middle of the pack to the top on international benchmarks.

I applaud the president's and Mrs. Obama's efforts to reach out to our youth, and find their focus wonderfully encouraging. We all need to be as passionate as the president about the importance of science and technology because we are at a crucial point. This is our scientific "fiscal crisis,” and, like our current crisis, it was not created overnight, nor will be fixed overnight.

My company, Northrop Grumman, is trying to do its part by mentoring promising college students, partnering with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and developing curricula with the Earthwatch Educator’s Institute.

Those are great initiatives, but engaging students at a younger age is key, and we must have educators who are truly bubbling with enthusiasm. To that end, Northrop Grumman launched its Weightless Flights of Discovery program.

This unique, nationwide professional development program for teachers is designed to inspire today’s students to pursue science and technical careers by inspiring their teachers first. In every respect, Weightless Flights of Discovery is comparable to what humans would experience during space travel.

This program reminds us of the excitement of the first years of space exploration alive for educators and provide a vivid remember of that first step on the moon – “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” These teachers are developing a first-person enthusiasm for technology as well as their own individual giant leap of understanding about aerospace that in turn will inspire a whole new generation of young people.

Middle-school teachers actually have the opportunity to participate in hands-on science workshops, performing an experiment in a zero-gravity aircraft flight that creates temporary weightlessness.

Now, I haven’t flown with them – yet – but I’ve seen the video and the look on these teachers’ faces as they float about the cabin is unforgettable. But rather than my telling you about it, let me show you a brief video..

(Click here to see "Inspire Me! Weightless Flights of Discovery" video)

Wasn’t that fantastic!

Recently, I attended an award ceremony for young engineers and was struck by how each of them paid homage their parents and named a specific teacher as the major influences for instilling in them a love of science. Parental and educator enthusiasm makes a big difference! I know it did for me.

The foundation for developing these students must be built early. While programs like Weightless Flights of Discovery can be used to impart to students a love of science and technology, so does the Exploring program sponsored by Learning for Life.

Exploring provides a hands-on, on-the-job experience for high-school students in a variety of industries, such as law enforcement and aviation – two highly technical fields. By supporting programs like Learning for Life, we will develop college graduates ready to lead our country in government and in industry.

Helping our young people achieve their full potential involves everyone - the community, the government, corporations and nonprofits. We all have an interconnected, necessary role.

America’s detractors today are only too happy to point out that the needle on our country’s educational meter is stuck. However, like the Boy Scout motto, “Be prepared.” Be prepared for a future we can only dream of today, one of unbelievable science and technology – things we can only imagine today. And one, I can say with confidence, we can achieve!