CRACKING THE CODE ON STEM
In 2011, my colleagues at Brookings helped develop the State of Nevada’s first ever economic development plan. Two years later, we began work on a companion report — Cracking the Code on STEM: A People Strategy for Nevada’s Economy.
Detailed quantitative analyses developed by my colleague Jonathan Rothwell exploring employment trends in Nevada’s key STEM industries, education and training requirements for growing STEM occupations, and P-12 and postsecondary educational outcomes in the state provided a strong foundation for the report.
Using this information, my colleagues Scott Andes and Mark Muro and I compiled a list of key stakeholders in Nevada’s STEM-oriented industries, state government, P-12 education, higher education, and civic organizations and conducted a series of phone interviews to better understand the main challenges facing Nevada with regard to STEM education and training. We also made several trips to Las Vegas and Reno to meet with stakeholders, present our preliminary findings, and lead discussions on how the state’s STEM education and training ecosystems might be strengthened.
DEVELOPING A CRITIQUE
Drawing on what we learned from our conversations with stakeholders, we developed a written critique of the current situation that focused on three key themes: lack of state vision, poor alignment between education and training systems and industry workforce needs, and a lack of basic proficiency at the P-12 and postsecondary levels. I was responsible for researching and writing the proficiency critique.
With these critiques in hand, we embarked on an extensive lit review as well as a national scan for best practices that could address Nevada’s workforce and education challenges. We conducted phone interviews to find out more about how strong programs had been developed and launched and the lessons learned in the process.
Over the course of this project, I delved into a number of new subject areas, including P-12 and postsecondary education, P-12 STEM education, early childhood education, associate degree programs, dropout prevention, efforts to engage underrepresented groups in STEM education and career pathways, and charter schools.
Once we had identified a wide range of possible solutions, we worked together to narrow the list down to a cohesive suite of recommendations organized around the three themes of vision, alignment, and proficiency.
Since the recommendation memo approach proved so successful on the Tennessee auto sector report, we used it again for this project. We created 15 memos that set out specific actions for leaders in the public, private, and civic sectors. In addition to circulating them to individual stakeholders as we did in Tennessee, we also published the memos on the Brookings website so that all readers could have access to these more detailed recommendations.
RELEASING THE REPORT
We presented our analysis, critique, and recommendations in a report released in Las Vegas in November 2014. I helped develop the media outreach plan and organize the release event, including designing the panel discussion, preparing panelists, and facilitating the panel discussion at the event. I also co-authored several op-eds and blog posts highlighting our key findings and recommendations. In the weeks following the report release, I participated in a number of press interviews and presented our report at the Nevada STEM Advisory Council’s winter meeting.
Gov. Sandoval has already begun to take action on some of our recommendations, including:
- Relaunching the state Office of Science, Innovation, and Technology
- Announcing plans to appoint a STEM Champion to head up the state’s STEM education and workforce training efforts
- Requesting $3 million from the state legislature for a STEM workforce challenge grant program