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Increasing Computer Science, Cybersecurity and STEM Access and Opportunity Through the JROTC

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Al Thompson, VP of U.S. Government Relations, Intel

Al-Thompson-Photo-Tie-scaled-2.jpeg Al Thompson, Intel

Last week, CSforALL and Intel convened industry, academic, and government leaders to discuss the role of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education for Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) students. Participants included Reps. Anthony Brown (D-MD), Jim Langevin (D-RI), Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) and Michael McCaul (R-TX), and U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Leslie Maher, South Carolina Columbia High School Principal Robert Craig Washington, and College Board Executive Director Maureen Reyes.

As a former JROTC cadet myself, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to participate in this important conversation on why it’s critical to increase access and opportunity to CS, cybersecurity, and STEM learning for JROTC cadets and schools. Rep. Langevin began the conversation, stressing the U.S. “absolutely” needs a STEM-educated workforce to maintain its competitive edge. Rep. McCaul also noted that the critical need for the U.S. to remain competitive in the tech workforce is why he has long supported STEM education.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, STEM occupations are growing at the rate of 17 percent, compared to other jobs that are growing at just 9.8 percent. With talented STEM workers in high demand, there is a real need to close the growing skills gap. This begins with expanding the workforce pipeline of future technologists by increasing youth training and access to the technical skills needed for current and future jobs.

Reflecting on her experience as a former ROTC member who studied engineering, Rep. Houlahan provided insight into why women and communities of color need increased support and access to STEM education. “We need to ensure we are building more robust and diverse pipelines. The importance of all forms of diversity cannot be overstated,” she said.

Increasing CS, cybersecurity and STEM access and opportunities through state-of-the-art STEM education models for JROTC cadets and schools is an incredibly powerful way to diversify the future workforce and fill the existing skills gap. “I strongly believe the workforce that supports our military must reflect the diversity of our nation,” Rep. Brown noted. “Our JROTC programs are an ideal venue to accomplish this objective.”

Of the 500,000 secondary students enrolled in the JROTC program, a majority are underrepresented minorities, and over 40 percent are female. These students are untapped talents for the technology workforce pipeline.

The FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which became law on January 1, 2021, includes a provision to significantly expand STEM education in the U.S. through the PROMOTES Act. This language provides a framework to prepare JROTC students with the necessary skills to develop future innovations and authorizes a new grant program focused on increasing training and education in STEM fields. With the full backing of the federal government and Department of Defense, this provision can provide the reach necessary to significantly impact and remove institutional barriers to entry in STEM fields.

At Intel, we emphasize diversifying the talent pipeline. We recently announced a major expansion at our manufacturing facilities in Arizona, which will create thousands of jobs in the state. We need a diverse, trained workforce to design the semiconductor chips we produce there. We look forward to working with our industry and congressional partners to expand access and opportunities to STEM training for diverse talent, which is essential to recruiting and ultimately diversifying the workforce in the U.S.