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STEM education key to the final frontier

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Emerging space technology is fueling a second industrial revolution, but the U.S. needs to educate a new generation of scientists to keep the momentum going, a Lockheed Martin executive told the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.

WASHINGTON 10-16-13Ken Washington, vice president of the Advanced Technology Center at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co., was the keynote speaker at the chamber’s 96th-annual meeting and luncheon at Sandia Resort and Casino.

Washington said advances in space technology have changed human society profoundly.

“Every moment, every day we’re surrounded, engulfed by an invisible torrent of information exchanges from earth to space and back through satellites and ground stations,” Washington told attendees. “That enables everything from cars to devices in our pockets, transforming our way of life … ATMs, credit card purchases, GPS and Internet live TV wouldn’t exist without it.”

But future U.S. innovation in space technology will depend largely on the nation’s ability to motivate youth in science, technology, engineering and math careers, Washington said.

“We plan to land on an asteroid and on Mars, and send humans to the outer regions of space,” he said. “We need the next generation of innovators to do it. That’s the importance of STEM education.”

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Washington said an estimated 1.2 million STEM jobs will need to be filled by 2018 in the U.S. But the educational system is producing qualified graduates far too slowly, with 2.5 times more positions now open than there are individuals to fill them.

“Across the nation, there is a generation of scientists, engineers and mathematicians who are retiring, leaving huge gaps that youth are not replacing in sufficient numbers,” he said.

To change that, industry, educators, policy leaders and families must partner together to motivate youth to pursue STEM-related careers, something Lockheed Martin is already heavily involved in, Washington said.

The company allocates about 50 percent of its annual corporate giving dollars to STEM causes, amounting to about $10 million in 2012.

During his speech, Washington announced a $5,000 donation for the New Mexico Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement Inc., a STEM program that operates in nine states.

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