STEM new Cold War
A student flies a drone at the OSU College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology. (Oklahoma State University)

To keep pace in an increasingly competitive global technology landscape, Oklahoma and the United States must nurture and grow a workforce better equipped than our rivals with the latest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills to compete on a global stage. A shortage of homegrown STEM talent has become a crisis for Oklahoma, the nation and the globe.

Make no mistake, we are engaged in a new Cold War — a war that will be won by finishing first in the race for advancing, developing and rapidly deploying technology and the useful knowledge it unlocks. The consequence of losing could be devastating to our national security, our economic prosperity, and our way of life. The U.S. Council on Foreign Relations asserts that China’s “Made in China 2025” strategy to dominate worldwide manufacturing is a real threat to U.S. technological leadership. Since China’s 2001 admission into the World Trade Organization, America has lost 5 million manufacturing jobs and 42,000 factories have closed.

In the U.S. 2018 National Defense Strategy, former Secretary of Defense James Mattis noted, “A modern, agile, information-advantaged department requires a motivated, diverse, and highly skilled civilian workforce.”

In early 2017, Gen. Lee Levy, commander of the Tinker Air Force Base Sustainment Center in Oklahoma City said, “The U.S. needs more people educated in STEM to maintain our technological preeminence in the modern battle space. I can hire every four-year engineering graduate the State of Oklahoma produces at Tinker AFB and still have empty chairs. That’s not a path to sustainability.”

Has Oklahoma helped Levy close the jobs gap over the past two years? Is the State of Oklahoma doing its part to combat the very real threat to our economic prosperity and our country’s global stature and national security? Unfortunately, we are not doing enough.

Oklahoma must target students in the early, formative years of education to cultivate our future workforce of engineers, scientists and technologists. We must inspire young students’ interests in new technologies including advanced computing, “big data” analytics, artificial intelligence, autonomy and robotics. Engineering schools like my alma mater Oklahoma State University must reach out and captivate future STEM students, especially girls, when they are in elementary school before they become interested in other careers or trades.

STEM skills translate data into knowledge, and knowledge is power. When engaged, that educational power will help the United States become the 21st century global leader that is so desperately needed.

As goes our success in advancing and successfully employing STEM, so shall go our economic prosperity and security as a state, as a country and as the leader of the free world. The time to act is now. The time to do more is now. The time to ensure we win the new Cold War is now.