STEM is an acronym for the field of study in the categories of science, technology, engineering, and math. Why is STEM important? STEM education creates critical thinkers, increases science literacy, and enables the next generation of innovators. Tomorrow’s graduate will compete in an emerging global economy fueled by rapid innovation and marked by an astonishing pace of technological breakthroughs.

Sadly, the U.S. may be known around the world for its higher education, but compared to many other leading and emerging countries, it lacks a strong focus on STEM. U.S. achievement in math and science is lagging behind students in much of Asia and Europe.

Recalling my elementary, middle and high school years in the Newark, New Jersey school system, girls were treated as second-class citizens when it came to STEM classes. Subtly, we were led to believe girls weren’t as smart as the boys in math and science. It appears not much has changed in 50 years.

The U.S. Department of Labor projects that by 2018 the U.S. will have more than 2.7 million job openings in STEM fields, yet there will be a significant shortage of qualified college graduates to fill these careers. How can we better inspire students and create longer lasting career interest in the area of STEM? This is a complex conundrum with a long list of possible solutions, but it seems to me that the following actions should be near the top of the list:

• Expose and prepare students to STEM fields from a young age, as early as elementary school
• Design and execute coordinated strategies to reach out specifically to girls starting in elementary school, with the aim of getting them into STEM studies and careers
• Revamp school curricula to make math and science education more approachable and less intimidating
• Recruit, train, and support highly-effective teachers in STEM subjects and provide robust tools to support their efforts
• Involve industry, the public sector, and educational institutions to implement an integrated approach that increases the number and quality of U.S. STEM graduates entering the workforce

Charles Vest, former president of MIT, has warned, “America faces many challenges . . . but the enemy I fear most is complacency.” I echo this sentiment, and encourage everyone to rise up and demand an end to this continuing slide into mediocrity in our educational systems. This requires us to play an active role in school reform. Let’s do it!