Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture held a cross-departmental discussion focusing on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) literacy with Susan Taylor of the National CARES Mentoring Network. Susan Taylor, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Essence magazine, founded the National CARES Mentoring Network while spending time in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. While in New Orleans, Susan said that she learned that over 50% of African American fourth graders are functionally illiterate. Susan came to USDA to explain the need for literacy training and other academic enrichment support for under-resourced children in low-income families in order to help students develop a broad range of 21st century literacy skills.
During the discussion, individuals representing various federal agencies and stakeholder groups discussed ways in which existing programs and initiatives that have a youth or STEM component could be leveraged with National CARES Mentoring Network to increase STEM literacy of under-resourced youth. The discussion included agricultural science opportunities offered through USDA like the 1890’s Scholars Program, Ag In the Classroom and our work with 4-H. The Summer Jobs+ initiative offered by the Department of Labor and various study abroad programs offered through the Department of State were also mentioned.
Both USDA’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Joe Leonard and Department of Education Deputy Assistant Secretary Jim Shelton closed the discussion by stating that it will take all levels of government, companies, foundations and non-profits, working together in partnership, to prepare America’s youth to compete for the jobs of the 21st Century. This commitment will help provide access to and support excellence in STEM education, allowing us to out-educate and out-innovate our global competitors.