This spring, Governor Chris Christie ushered in New Jersey’s third annual STEM Week with a gubernatorial proclamation celebrating our living legacy of innovation. This was a fitting tribute to a state where researchers not only stand on the shoulders of giants, as Isaac Newton said, but where many are giants themselves.
Giants like Johnson & Johnson, Nokia Bell Labs, and IBM call New Jersey home. But innovation does not happen in a vacuum, and these companies rely on the Garden State’s robust innovation ecosystem. This ecosystem, spearheaded by the Research & Development Council founding members, continues to position New Jersey as a global innovation leader. And this work has never been more important than today with the rapid growth of the importance of STEM education and innovation to fuel the state economy at a time when record numbers of baby-boomer STEM professionals are retiring. Fostering innovation has been – and continues to be – a key part of the Council’s mission.
In 2013, we created the Governor’s STEM Scholars (GSS) program to address the state’s projected STEM pipeline shortages. This program is a partnership among the Governor’s Office, Secretary of Higher Education, Department of Education and the R&D Council. To date, GSS has had nearly 200 participants from 10th grade through Ph.D. Representatives from every county are participants and each receives a comprehensive introduction to the state’s STEM economy through conferences, field trips, internships and a research project. Students intern at STEM institutions like Picatinny Arsenal, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. Our scholars meet STEM professionals from companies like Janssen, ExxonMobil and TE Subcom.
Programs like GSS help us cultivate our state’s STEM ecosystem by introducing our future professionals to today’s workforce. They also help us build on the state’s burgeoning government efforts like Secretary of Higher Education Rochelle Hendricks’s STEM Pathways Networks and its recent launch of four regional STEM ecosystems.
At the professional level, our best inventors are recognized each year at the Council’s Thomas Alva Edison Patent Awards. Now in its 38th year, this is New Jersey’s premier event celebrating innovation. In the past, we’ve recognized great New Jerseyans like Bell Labs’ cosmic microwave background radiation Nobel Prize winner Dr. Robert Wilson, government leaders like Governor Tom Kean, and educators like NJIT President Dr. Joel Bloom.
Since at least the time of Thomas Edison, New Jersey has been recognized as a global leader in what we now call the STEM fields. Without the innovative people and institutions of our state, none of us would benefit from the strong STEM ecosystem that develops life-saving medicines, protects the environment, and shapes the modern world. Our future is exciting and bright, and if you’re pleased that it has arrived even faster than you expected, thank a STEM professional. With New Jersey boasting one of the highest concentrations of STEM professionals per capita on earth, it shouldn’t be hard to find one.
Research & Development Council of New Jersey
Troy Sarich, Ph.D.
127 Main Street
Chatham, NJ 07928