Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) cannot carry out its mission of strengthening the nation’s security through cutting-edge science, technology, and engineering without a world-class workforce.
As part of the network of national labs across the United States, we have a critical role in ensuring American competitiveness by contributing to the development of new generations of science and engineering leaders. In order to see our country succeed and continue moving into the future, we believe we have a duty to support a multi-pronged outreach effort to promote science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) literacy, give back to the community, and help ensure that a future workforce skilled in STEM is ready in the wings.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, STEM occupations are growing much faster than employment in non-STEM occupations over the last decade (24.4 percent vs. 4 percent respectively), but unfortunately, mathematics and science can be under-supported at the public education level.
For example, The Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) reveals strengths and deficits nationwide in student access to college and career preparatory coursework and opportunities. More than two in 10 high schools do not offer algebra; only about one in five schools offers calculus.
* Advanced mathematics includes trigonometry, trigonometry/algebra, trigonometry/analytic geometry, trigonometry/math analysis, analytic geometry, math analysis, math analysis/analytic geometry, probability and statistics, and precalculus. NOTE: Table reads (for US Totals): Of all 47,327 public schools with any grade 7-12 (or ungraded). Data reported in this table represent 99.9 % of responding schools. Data Collection. SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, Civil Rights Data
The data is clear: The U.S.’ worldwide ranking in STEM accomplishments has been in decline. Students in the U.S. rank somewhere in the middle when compared to their peers around the world, according to data released from international math and science assessments, and our nation places lower than many other advanced industrial nations. In a Pew Research Center article in 2017, the U.S. placed 38th out of 71 countries in math and 24th in science subjects.
At LLNL, we believe that changing a student’s trajectory doesn’t just occur in the classroom. Our outlook on STEM education sees a student’s journey as a continuum, from elementary school to early career. We come into play by providing support to communities, school programs and individuals through access to STEM programs throughout that entire journey. STEM education and experiences not only prepare students for the next phase of their education or career, but also improve critical thinking and spark creativity and innovation, helping to move the U.S. economy forward in any field students choose to pursue.
We work to provide multiple STEM learning opportunities to ensure that more students have the chance to learn, study and be inspired by science, technology, engineering and math. More than 8,000 students visit Lawrence Livermore each year to experience Fun with Science, an interactive introduction to science and engineering. The Laboratory’s Discovery Center offers a number of interactive learning displays aimed at fostering curiosity and developing a better understanding of core scientific principles. LLNL’s offers an annual STEM Day at the Lab — which encourages underrepresented and underserved middle and high school students to feel comfortable with STEM topics — and sponsors Expanding Your Horizons, which introduces STEM careers to middle- and high-school-aged girls. The Laboratory also holds weekly Science on Saturday lectures at local theaters. Aimed at middle and high school students but open to all ages, the series features innovative projects centered on a theme. To reach an even larger audience, videos of the lectures are posted on Lawrence Livermore’s YouTube channel and broadcast on the University of California’s television station, UCTV.
We’re using social media for more than publishing recorded events: We also post fun, engaging videos about the science we do here on our YouTube channel, and we have an active presence across our other social media platforms. We want to reach students all over the country, not just those who may be able to come visit. These videos allow viewers to feel like they’re part of the science. They get to come “inside the Lab,” albeit virtually, and we focus on highlighting the human side of science so that viewers anywhere can picture themselves becoming a scientist or engineer.
Our STEM efforts do not stop at the elementary or secondary level. Each summer the Lab hosts 500 to 700 interns — undergraduate and graduate students looking to get out of the classroom and receive some practical research experience. Another 300 to 500 students participate throughout the school year. These interns assist our researchers in important mission work while completing their education, or they may take on other pursuits relative to the Lab’s science and technological work. Many return for subsequent internships, others use their Lab experience as a springboard to a Ph.D., and still others return as postdoctoral students or even full-time employees.
In addition, LLNL’s Office of University Relations and Science Education has launched a new STEM Outreach Program to allow staff to engage in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education outreach activities inside and outside of the Laboratory.
"This program allows staff to increase the Laboratory's efforts to engage, excite and educate the next generation of STEM-savvy citizens within our broader community," says Annie Kersting, director of University Relations and Science Education. "The Laboratory values community involvement and this program is designed to extend its impact in K-12 STEM education to a larger and more diverse student population in our area. I'm excited about increasing the Laboratory's STEM engagement and expanding our reach in our local communities."
Several studies have shown that in-person engagement programs that allow scientist to interface with the public, especially young schoolchildren, demonstrably increases student interest in and enthusiasm for science. One 2004 study demonstrated that student participants in outreach programs early in their education may be more likely to go on to become science majors in college than those who are not exposed to science outreach.4
New challenges in our national security missions are always calling for fresh solutions, so our efforts to ensure that we have the right workforce and skillsets to address those challenges are never done. At LLNL, as well as at our sister national laboratories, we are working to prepare future scientists and engineers who will not only help us accomplish our missions, but make the world a safer and better place. This is why we are invested in STEM—how would contributing to STEM education impact your business or field?
1 As measured by performance on The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).
2 Scholar Works Montana Education
3 Science Education Outreach Programs that Benefit Students and Scientists
4 Assessing Precollege Science Education Outreach Initiatives: A Funder's Perspective