On Friday, June 29, 2012, Northrop Grumman Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President Wes Bush Addressed the U.S. News STEM Solutions Summit in Dallas. Below are his remarks.

The Power of Partnerships for STEM Solutions

I’m delighted to be here with you this morning at this very important event. As we have discussed over the course of the last two days, we are here to find serious solutions to a serious problem – a problem that is at the heart of how we educate and engage our youth.

The solutions we embrace will determine the success of our future generations; the health of America’s economy; and the standard of living our children will – or will not – enjoy.

I take this personally. I’m an engineer and I’m privileged to lead a company that employs more than 30,000 scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and other technologists.

I see firsthand, everyday, the importance of this amazing talent.

The stakes are high, and I think ultimately go to the very viability of our nation’s place on the world stage.

But, we are here to do more than analyze the problem. The magnitude of the challenge must motivate all of us to take action. Our actions must be deliberate, innovative, and be driven by a sense of urgency. The picture may look bleak, but we know there are actions we can take to make a difference.

At the heart of our actions must be a recognition of those who ultimately engage our students at every level. I would like to ask all educators with us here today to please stand and be recognized. Thank you for your dedication. The role you play is critical to our future.

So, let’s talk about actions. First, we have been at this for awhile. We’ve learned a few things. We know that we have to start early with our young people and engage them at every level from early childhood to college. We know that we need more high school graduates ready and interested in pursuing STEM disciplines in college.

And, once they are in college, we know the job is still not done. The first two years are crucial. Too many undergraduates who start a STEM curriculum have chosen a different path by the end of their second year.

Business people also have learned some things.

We know we share the responsibility to ensure college graduates are ready to join the STEM workforce. We should not expect educators to bear this responsibility alone.

And this is the aspect of STEM education that I would like to discuss with you today – the importance of partnerships to turn solutions into results that keep the pipeline of innovation flowing.

I’m not talking about partnerships that center on philanthropy alone. Don’t get me wrong: philanthropy is, and will remain, an integral component of the STEM equation.

The kind of partnership I suggest to you is active and covers the educational spectrum. It is involved. It depends on leadership and oversight to establish programs that are innovative, targeted and scalable. A wonderful example is Great Minds in STEM. Their Viva Technology program, which focuses on Hispanic youth and others, includes the students, obviously, but also includes parents, educators, college students and the business community.

I’m talking about programs that deliver measurable results to answer the specified workforce requirements of individual industry sectors, and even specific companies.

These are workforce requirements that change quickly in response to the pace of technology. So the programs and partnerships also need to be flexible and responsive.

There are many great examples of these kinds of partnerships, some we’ve already heard about at this conference.

I was recently honored to become the chairman of the Business Higher Education Forum. One of the BHEF’s greatest strengths is its ability to establish partnerships with business to find STEM solutions at the college level. Earlier this month, BHEF announced 12 new partnerships between businesses and universities.

One of those is an active partnership between Northrop Grumman and the University of Maryland.

Here is what makes this partnership innovative: It begins with the workforce needs – those of Northrop Grumman and other employers in Maryland, the District of Columbia and northern Virginia. We, and the Washington metro area – have a particular need for cybersecurity workers.

So, in concert with the University of Maryland, a cybersecurity degree program was designed and established. But this active partnership did not stop there.

The partnership designed a curriculum to enable student success in this field, beginning in the first two years and then continuing through graduation.

On our end of the partnership, Northrop Grumman agreed to integrate these cyber students into our internship program, to provide input into the curriculum, and to make our own cyber professionals available to the university as mentors. 

On their end, the university changed the teaching model to one more akin to a teaching hospital.

Students will study in an intensive “living-learning” environment to enhance the team-building skills valued by industry.

This kind of partnership is innovative, collaborative and participatory. There is a philanthropic component to it, but it does not stop there.

It is designed to respond to specific workforce needs, and to engage the human capital of the companies at which these students will soon apply for jobs.

In another example of this innovative partnership model, Oracle also has a high interest in the IT workforce pool. And that includes an interest in cybersecurity.

But, the nature if their business is different from that of the defense industry, as are the workforce needs of Silicon Valley. So, Oracle’s partnership with San Jose State is subtly different too.

San Jose State is establishing a Silicon Valley Center for Cybersecurity designed to respond to those regional, as well as national, cyber professional workforce needs.

With Oracle as the lead company, business will play a central role in the project by providing such opportunities for the students as internships, mentoring, curricula development, scholarships and other things.

After yesterday’s discussion, you are all familiar with the Sherwin Williams Company and the partnership they recently established with Case Western Reserve University. It has many of the same features of these partnerships.

Innovative, tailored partnerships like these are underway in states across the country, including many different kinds of companies and educational institutions. These partnerships represent the type of action that will make a real, tangible impact.
But of course, this model does not apply to every need. K-12 education is also critical if college-level programs are to succeed. This is because, as we know, children must be exposed to, and excited by, STEM disciplines as early as possible.

This speaks to the need for active partnerships with those K-12 STEM organizations established to inspire young students through informal education programs that are relevant and have the “wow” factor.

Again, those partnerships that work best are collaborative, innovative, and active. And, as we have learned, the focus cannot be confined to students. In fact, I believe, the focus must be biased towards STEM teachers, who ultimately inspire and educate the future talent base.

And, there is a particular need to focus on teachers at the critical middle school level – the level when so many kids are won or lost to STEM studies.

An example program has been the Northrop Grumman Foundation’s partnership with a company called “Zero-G” that focused on teachers.

The program allowed more than 1,200 middle school science teachers and future teachers to experience the weightlessness of space in Zero-G’s aircraft, flying parabolic flight profiles.

The teachers designed and performed experiments in the weightless environment, and learned better ways to teach and inspire their science students.

In another example, this year marks the first year of a new partnership for the Northrop Grumman Foundation in collaboration with Conservation International. Called “ECO Classroom,” the program will take middle school and high school science teachers to Central Cost Rica for two weeks of Environmental Science field work, studies and exploration.

They will conduct research with environmental scientists and bring that experience back to their own classrooms and communities.

We partnered with Conservation International because of their commitment to science-based solutions to environmental challenges.

I think most observers would conclude this type of partnership to be an unusual pairing: an environmental organization with a defense technology company.

But our objectives align well. We both believe in the value of science-based decision making and in the development of a world-class cadre of scientists for future generations.

Of course, the business community’s longer standing partnerships also merit mention. The National Math and Science Initiative has done superb work in promoting STEM among students and teachers, with a major focus on military families.

As an Exxon Mobil executive – one of the organization’s founding sponsors – stated, the purpose of the National Math and Science Initiative is to lay a strong foundation for the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Just as different businesses have different workforce needs, so are different STEM organizations often tailored to different demographics.

These partnerships reach out to diverse students and are crucial to our nation’s future.

We already have heard that the demographics of our nation continue to change. It is critical that we ensure that women and people of color are attracted to and developed for STEM education and careers. Our approach must excite and engage a broader spectrum of young people into STEM studies.

In the Northeast we see a business – academic partnership designed to address this issue.

The University of Massachusetts has come together with the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership – an organization of businesses that includes Raytheon, Suffolk Construction, and others.

The program they developed strengthens partnerships between several UMass campuses, Community Colleges, and Massachusetts companies to increase minority representation in STEM disciplines. It’s ambitious, seeking to double the number of STEM degrees to minority and under-represented students over the next four years.

Fortunately, there are many worthy STEM associations focused on diversity, which were established to make this easier. And partnering with them makes good business sense.

I mentioned Great Minds In STEM.

But there also are professional associations such as the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering; the Society of Women Engineers; Society of Hispanic Engineers; the National Society of Black Engineers, in addition to historically black colleges and universities, along with minority institutions. These are organizations full of passionate, committed professionals.

Professionals like Dr. Freemen Hrabowski, the president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore. I was delighted to learn that he will be inducted into the STEM Hall of Fame at this summit. He leads a university that has developed the most diverse STEM student body in America. Northrop Grumman has a long standing partnership with UMBC and with Dr. Hrabowski – a partnership that is a model for the deep connectivity between institutions of higher education and corporations that generates real, tangible outcomes.

Actively partnering with visionaries like Dr. Hrabowski, and organizations like the ones I named, will pay large workforce development dividends for companies in both the short and long terms.

Our economic viability relies on continuous innovation and a strong science and engineering foundation.

Decline, be it national, economic or corporate, is a choice, not a fate. We all know how intractable the STEM problem has been these many years. But it does not have to be a permanent affliction. We have options and we have tools. We can take action.

And one of the most powerful actions is that of the partnership. Partnerships that are collaborative, innovative, proactive and strategic.

Partnerships that address all levels of the problem: K-12; colleges and universities; the role of diversity; and educators as well as students.

Partnerships with every concerned community, be it academia, the private sector, government or advocacy groups. Partnerships that leverage, and integrate, and amplify.

These partnerships can break the logjam.

The old model of simply writing checks doesn’t fly anymore. To be sure, the new partnership model still requires investment and corporate philanthropy. But it also depends on corporate leadership and human engagement.

I encourage each of you to take a look at your organizations, and ask what kind of partnership can you envision that will allow your school, organization or company to better fulfill its mission?

I encourage you to continue to look for opportunities to partner with organizations with similar goals as your own.

But I especially encourage you to look for opportunities to partner with organizations that may be nothing like your own.

As I mentioned earlier, people are often surprised to learn that a defense company has partnered with an environmental organization.

But in the unconventional, we often find the greatest opportunities, simply because they have gone unnoticed.

Thank you for being here. And thank you for your commitment to address a serious problem. We have options. We have tools. Let’s take action.