In February 2023, a team from the Systems Engineering Research Center (SERC) led by Dr. Payuna Uday (Stevens Institute of Technology) began developing informative case studies that explore existing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) ecosystems, i.e., the multiple parties in a community or region who collectively work to expand STEM learning opportunities, and the potential of this ecosystem model to contribute to growing the STEM workforce. This task continues previous work, completed in July 2022, in which the Department of Defense (DoD) partnered with the SERC to develop policy options and recommendations to promote DoD and defense industry collaboration in STEM education activities. This study was requested by the National Defense Authorization Act for FY20.
The need to build and sustain a STEM-competent workforce to support defense missions now and in the future is critical. The previous research conducted by the SERC identified current activities that address aspects of the STEM educational lifecycle. However, these activities do so individually. This illustrated the case for the DoD and the defense industrial base (DIB) to collaborate and bring coherence to existing activities and build a joint strategy to shape future initiatives.
The current research, led by Uday in her first time acting as principal investigator, explores how DoD-DIB collaborative partnerships can achieve collective impact. As Uday explained, “Collective impact is a process often used to help public- and private-sector organizations commit to a common agenda for solving complex social problems. In our work, we are exploring opportunities for the DoD and the DIB to collaboratively leverage and enhance the collective impact of STEM learning ecosystems to inspire, engage, and attract STEM talent to defense missions.”
The current research aims to identify robust and impactful opportunities for DoD-DIB collaboration toward delivering the future technical workforce needed. The team is identifying candidate STEM ecosystems that could benefit from increased or new DoD-DIB collaborative involvement to serve as the basis for focused case studies. It is anticipated these will provide a usable reference architecture to guide decision-making for STEM ecosystems and recommendations for increased DoD-DIB collaborative activities to further STEM engagement and workforce development.
The research includes plans to design a pilot study framework to guide the implementation of a DoD-DIB collaborative STEM ecosystem. The team is leveraging the networks of the various members of the DoD STEM Advisory Council and the National Academies as well as data collected by past work. They are also looking at startups, industrial base investments, and the DoD and other national laboratories to gauge where technologies are headed.
Uday presented on the previously conducted research (Policy Options to Promote DoD-Defense Industry Collaboration in STEM Education and Workforce Development Programs, Activities, and Outreach) in November 2022 at the SERC Annual Research Review, held in Washington and online. Uday noted that the vision of DoD-DIB collective impact also emphasizes outreach to priority populations, including those that may be predisposed to serving in the national security community. “Collaborative STEM engagement partnerships between the DoD and its industrial base present unique opportunities to prioritize military-connected families while also reaching underserved/underrepresented populations.”
The previous research and the current project highlight how partnerships between the DoD and DIB—as well as with entities outside of the defense industry, such as educational institutions and nonprofit organizations—open opportunities that support and further the goal of developing a skilled STEM workforce.
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