STEM in New Jersey: Strengthening a Strength

Ready to create a new generation of science and tech innovators.

When people think about particular states, certain thoughts come to mind. If someone mentions California, chances are images of movies and smartphones will follow. If someone talks about Michigan or Washington, the same thing might happen with cars and airplanes. These states each had something unique that provided just the right ingredients for particular types of innovation.

According Harvard’s Michael Porter, that something can be explained by clusters. Certain places become really good at producing certain products because they “cluster” together people, businesses and institutions. Clusters boost productivity and stimulate competition. The more resources there are in a local area that are devoted to a discrete set of issues, the more innovation follows.

In New Jersey, the clustering of highly educated people, top companies and world-renowned research universities has made it one of the premier places in the country for knowledge creation. Despite the institutional advantages that New Jersey possesses, it is still facing a STEM shortage. By 2018, New Jersey will need to fill over 269,000 STEM jobs. This problem is made worse by outmigration by the young and retirements by the old. In 2008, New Jersey led the nation with a net loss of 27,343 college students leaving the state. By 2018, New Jersey will bear a large portion of the 2.4 million vacancies driven by baby boomer retirees nationwide who work in STEM fields.

One way New Jersey is addressing this problem is through the Governor’s STEM Scholars Program, a unique public-private partnership developed among leading companies, the Governor’s Office, the New Jersey Department of Education and Secretary of Higher Education.

The program is comprised of 50 of the best and brightest students from high school through college from communities across the state. It exposes these students to all New Jersey has to offer in STEM. Rather than rely on chance encounters, the program is giving these scholars a comprehensive introduction to all the STEM clusters in the state.

At the program’s core are four conferences that aim to mentor, educate and inspire the scholars by giving them a comprehensive introduction to STEM professionals and the work already being done in the state. The conferences will be supplemented by internships between the Council and our sponsors, and trips into the field where the scholars will get firsthand exposure to things like 3D printing, nanotechnology and more. We anticipate that connecting our state’s top STEM students to working STEM professionals will open up mutually beneficial doors of research, opportunity and development.

The Research & Development Council of New Jersey knows that states that are STEM leaders can be at the forefront of addressing the nation’s STEM shortage. Unlike other states, we already have the clusters – of people, businesses and institutions – that drive innovation and develop research.

New Jersey-based innovators gave the world the light bulb, the silicon transistor and the antibiotic streptomycin. With the help of this program, we can build on our state’s legacy of innovation, and help strengthen a strength.

Anthony Cicatiello serves as president of the Research & Development Council of New Jersey and David Hodges is director of the Governor’s STEM Scholars Program.

Related Articles: