2012 STEM Workshop Explores Measuring and Improving Innovation - Competitiveness

BY Martin M. Sokoloski Posted: 1 Sep 2012

Attendees at the 2012 workshop, STEM Enterprise: Measures for Innovation and Competiveness heard from a wide variety of experts on how to measure and improve innovation and competitiveness in the United States.

 

The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) enterprise is a unique ensemble of research and development accomplished by the federal government, academia and private industry, both national and international. It is the driving force for economic and social advancement for humankind. The economic health of this enterprise is important to everyone. Policies and regulations must be derived from basic incorruptible data and measures to maintain a healthy and productive STEM enterprise.

The main input driver to the STEM R&D enterprise is funding: federal, state, industry and academic. However, outputs--and more importantly--the outcomes, from that investment that drive policy implications are ambiguous. For instance, is bibliometric data reasonable in measuring both quantity and quality output; or are new data sources needed to quantify output? What data exists to follow interactions among the STEM enterprise sectors? What is the outcome or impact of the R&D investment on society and quality of life? How can we measure and assess the outcomes?

The workshop, held on 6 June at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington, D.C., brought thought leaders together to discuss these important questions and to develop policy positions based on concrete data and proven algorithms. Eleven invited speakers addressed STEM enterprise issues.  

 

Leading labor economist Dr. Richard Freeman; and Rep. Rush Holt, who holds a doctorate in physics, were the keynote speakers. Freeman, a professor at Harvard University, lamented about the paucity of data, and how to measure its impact on innovation. 

 

Holt, who serves on the House Committees of Education and Workforce, and Natural Resources, examined the role of the STEM enterprise, and the legislative role in nurturing this area. His views were amplified by Mr. David Goldston, director of government affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council and former chief of staff of the House Science Committee. Holt also emphasized the role of STEM education for all students, so that when they get older, they can better understand the consequences of federal policy decisions.

 

Dr. Diana Hicks, chair of the School of Public Policy at Georgia Tech, agreed with Freeman, and she called for a systemic database infrastructure to track research and innovation. Dr. Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, spoke of the need for better understanding of the relationship between firm production and R&D. 

 

Dr. Nicholas Vonortas, director of the Center for International Science and Technology Policy at George Washington University, noted that data and its use in policy formulation is currently a very inaccurate science. And Ms. Ann Kushermick, manager of research evaluation and bibliometric data at Thomson Reuters, showed how current measurements of R&D from her company’s Web of Science tool can help in assessing STEM productivity. Examples included research for footprints, which compares major disciplines by country, and with global averages, and shares of peer-reviewed papers with citation counts.

 

Dr. Ron Hira, associate professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology; Dr. Michael Mandel, chief economic strategist at the Progressive Policy Institute; and Mr. Edward Swallow, a Northrop Grumman vice president for business development, discussed workforce issues. Hira noted that H-1B temporary visa policies are accelerating the offshoring of jobs, while Mandel contended that globalization required coordinated surveys and new statistical techniques for proper interpretation of business practice data.

 

Swallow reported that the aerospace industry is the leading employer of STEM professionals but is losing jobs due to various reasons. He recommended educating and developing leaders to inspire young professionals--to help them realize that they can make a difference.

 

Mr. Matt Hourihan, director of the R&D Budget and Policy Program at AAAS, and Dr. Steven Merrill, executive director of the National Academies’ Board on Science, Technology and Economic Policy, addressed the federal government R&D budget. Hourihan examined the deleterious effect of possible sequestration of the federal budget on R&D.  Merrill talked about the America Competes Act of 2007 and 2010, and changes in federal support of R&D.

 

Former IEEE-USA President Dr. Ralph Wyndrum, head of Executive Engineering Consultants and an advocate of K-12 STEM education, introduced Mr. Chris Ippolito, Red Bank (N.J.) Middle School’s Project Lead the Way teacher. Ippolito used a video of his students--who are mostly minority--to demonstrate the positive effects of sound STEM teaching. He received a rousing ovation for his work.

 

Dr. Richard Silberglitt, a senior physical scientist at the RAND corporation, extolled the virtues of the STEM enterprise for national and international innovation and  competiveness.

 

Dr. Mary Good, former dean of the Donaghey College of Engineering and Information Technology at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, led the wrap-up session with Mr. Robert Boege, executive director of the Alliance for Science and Technology Research in America (ASTRA). They summarized the day’s events, including discoveries, recommendations and STEM policy issues.

 

IEEE-USA, AIChE, AIME, ASCE and ASME organized the workshop, and it was supported by a grant from the United Engineering Foundation. Cosponsors included AAAS, ASTRA, SME, Thomson Reuters and Northrop Grumman. More than 115 people attended. A similar gathering was held in 2009.

 

Presentations are online at http://www.ieeeusa.org/calendar/conferences/STEM/2012/program-presentations.asp.

 

Videos of select speakers are available at http://www.ieeeusa.org/calendar/conferences/stem/. 

 

You can read IEEE Spectrum freelancer Bob Charette’s coverage at http://spectrum.ieee.org/riskfactor/at-work/education/stem-education-in-the-us-is-more-or-less-needed.

 

Dr. Martin M. Sokoloski chaired the 2009 and 2012 STEM Measures workshops, and is a former chair of IEEE-USA’s Research & Development Policy Committee.

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