Strengthening STEM Engagement with Minority Serving Institutions
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In May 2023, the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA)’s Emerging Technologies Institute (ETI), the Office of the Chief Scientist of the Air Force, and NDIA’s Science and Engineering Technology (S&ET) Division co-hosted a workshop on “Strengthening DoD-Industry-Academia Collaboration to Increase STEM Engagement with MSIs.” The workshop focused on identifying incentives and barriers for STEM students at Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) to enter the defense industrial base (DIB) and Department of Defense (DoD). This workshop followed a previous NDIA ETI event with the Office of Chief Scientist of the Air Force that focused on how to work with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Participants discussed their experiences weighing different career options, best practices for DIB-DoD-Academia collaboration, and contract language for hiring practices.
The workshop examined the barriers to entry in DoD and DIB careers for STEM students from MSIs, and what each community – DoD, DIB, and academia – can do to remove those barriers. The event also included a discussion of best practices for public-private partnerships, and how collaboration can yield the greatest impact. Ultimately, while DoD and the DIB share a common mission, companies’ decisions to conduct stem engagement with MSIs is determined by the business case. Strengthening engagement between DoD and MSIs is an area of increasing attention. Ultimately, developing an understanding of where DoD and the DIB is providing or limiting access to MSI students remains at the forefront of cultivating a robust STEM workforce.
The participants considered the future of STEM engagement with MSIs from their respective backgrounds: government, industry, and academic. The workshop began with opening remarks from the Office of the Chief Scientist of the Air Force and Chair of NDIA’s S&ET Division, whose comments provided an overview of “War on Technical Talent” and outlined DoD’s workforce goals. This was followed by a presentation by the Systems Engineering Research Center (SERC) at the Stevens Institute of Technology, a University Affiliated Research Center of the DoD, who summarized findings from a SERC report on promoting DoD-DIB collaboration in STEM education and workforce development. One key takeaway from the SERC report is that there exists an abundance of STEM education-related activities, programs, and organizations that individually address aspects of the STEM educational lifecycle at the local, state, and national levels; however, there is a need for DoD and the DIB to bring coherence to activities already underway while building a joint strategy to shape future initiatives. These presentations provided a foundation for the event’s three focused group discussions. The day concluded with a discussion among workshop participants to synthesize the findings and provide key recommendations.