Franken stresses value of STEM skills

The senator stated how these skills heighten job opportunities.
Senator Al Franken discusses STEM programs Tuesday afternoon at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
January 18, 2012

U.S. Sen. Al Franken kicked off the Humphrey School of Public Affairs’ new policy discussion series Tuesday.

Speaking to a full auditorium of mostly faculty, Franken focused on the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics –– or STEM –– in state education.

The series, organized and moderated by Humprey professor Larry Jacobs, was created to be one-on-one platforms with public officials on topics of their choosing, said Anne Mason, a spokeswoman for the school.

Franken focused on the correlation he said existed between the presence of strong STEM skills in students and their ability to get jobs. He said manufacturers are not able to fill open spots despite the high unemployment rates because the applicants lack practical knowledge.

“It’s kind of news to these kids. They think of manufacturing facilities as where you work on an assembly line … I don’t think students understand the nature of what manufacturing is.”

Meanwhile, the University of Minnesota’s role in STEM education is a big one, Franken said, referring to the school’s emphasis on biomedical sciences.

Late last year the University announced it will increase student enrollment in STEM fields by about 1,000 undergraduate students starting fall 2012. In 2010, the school opened a center dedicated to working on issues surrounding STEM education processes.

“The U has a very active STEM center to improve 21st century skills,” said Janet Dubinsky, a neuroscience professor who attended the discussion.

Franken said he has a role “to go around to schools and talk about STEM.” He said he has been pushing for legislation boosting the STEM programs. To Dubinsky, the senator’s speech seemed as an indication that he is “very clear he is working hard on the Senate side.”

After his speech, Franken answered questions from the audience, which focused on strategies to improve STEM curriculum.

The next discussion, which will feature Speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives Kurt Zellers, is scheduled Jan. 19. He will preview the 2012 state legislative session. The discussion will start at noon in Cowles Auditorium at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

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