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U.S. News recognizes Raytheon Chairman for leadership in advancing education

"Raytheon Chairman Bill Swanson talks with Junior Achievement students about how science, technology, engineering and math helped shape his career.

Inspiring students to create a lifelong relationship with math and science is Raytheon Chairman Bill Swanson’s passion. In April 2014 U.S. News inducted the 42-year Raytheon veteran into its Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Hall of Fame for his role in leading national efforts to better prepare students for careers in these fields.

Swanson joins Anousheh Ansari, co-founder and CEO of Prodea Systems; Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D., president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; and Norman R. Augustine, former chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin, as the third class inducted into the Hall of Fame. They were chosen from a group of industry, academic, and nonprofit leaders for achieving measurable results in STEM fields, challenging conventional wisdom and motivating future STEM professionals.

The Hall of Fame honored the new inductees during the U.S. News STEM Solutions summit in Washington, D.C. on April 25, 2014.

In this interview, Bill shares his views on businesses’ role in building the future workforce and engaging students in science and engineering. He also gives his advice for young people contemplating their future career paths.

Q:  What can Corporate America do to strengthen the STEM talent pool?

Business engagement is critical to improving workforce alignment. Today, the unfortunate fact is that too many students and adults are training for jobs in which labor surpluses exist and demand is low – while high-demand jobs, particularly those in STEM fields, go unfilled. 

As job creators, businesses are on the frontlines of this supply/demand dynamic. It’s imperative that we work with government and academia to identify and address the structural misalignment between education and workforce needs.

This is something we’ve been focused on at the Business-Higher Education Forum, a leading organization promoting business and higher education collaboration. Our goal of improving alignment is to better develop and maintain the employee skills that will keep our companies competitive in the 21st century.

As a starting point, businesses need to direct more philanthropic support to science- and math-oriented education programs. They should also encourage their employees to volunteer for STEM-related community outreach programs. At Raytheon, nearly a third of our employees have committed more than 500,000 hours of their time and talents over the past three years to mentoring and volunteerism. I am happy to say that our employees are passionate about mentoring the next generation of leaders.

Second, private industry should support government initiatives like US2020. Created by the White House, this program aims to mobilize one million mentors in STEM subjects by 2020 by connecting public schools with professional networks.

Third, business should show its support of important STEM-oriented public policy initiatives. The President’s plan to reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers is particularly promising. So is the Common Core State Standards Initiative, an effort to make state education curricula more uniform. Already adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, it sets rigorous expectations for all students in math and English and will ensure we are building the next generation workforce.

Our country’s economic future and national security depend on private industry, educators and policymakers working together to cultivate the STEM professionals needed to fuel innovation and ensure global competitiveness.

Q: Student interest in STEM fields isn’t growing. What do we need to do to capture their attention?

This is one of those big questions that should be keeping us all up at night! And it’s why we made a concerted effort nearly a decade ago at Raytheon to focus our STEM outreach efforts under our MathMovesU initiative.

To ensure our workforce pipeline is filled with the kind of talent we need, our goal with MathMovesU is to engage students and channel their passions to inspire them to create a lifelong relationship with math and science. We need to catch them at an early stage of their education and show them on their own terms how math, science and engineering can be used in unexpected ways to pursue exciting goals.

For example, when students plug in a guitar, ride a skateboard or play a video game, they are having fun with math, science and engineering – they just don’t know it.

Some of the most popular examples of our MathMovesU program include a virtual thrill ride called Sum of all Thrills at INNOVENTIONS at Epcot in Walt Disney World, an interactive football game that uses math called “In The Numbers” with the New England Patriots and the Kraft family at The Hall at Patriot Place, and a traveling interactive museum exhibition called MathAlive! that provides students with fun hands-on experiences to demonstrate the math concepts in everyday life.

I know from experience that sometimes all it takes is a single moment or spark to inspire a future engineer or scientist to pursue a STEM career. Our MathMovesU programs and partnerships are designed to ignite that spark.

Q: Can you give us an example of how Raytheon’s efforts on behalf of STEM education have inspired future career paths for students?

Absolutely. There are many examples. The one that comes to mind is the Stand and Deliver program, which is a corporate academic mentoring program that matches volunteers from local businesses with underserved middle and high school students from Lawrence, Mass., a city north of Boston. Raytheon has been involved with the program for a decade, and we’ve mentored hundreds of students.  Many of Raytheon’s Stand and Deliver high school students also complete summer internships with the prospect of a career opportunity at Raytheon post graduation.

Another example is the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition, which takes place the last weekend of April. College students from 160 schools come together to defend their own “commercial” network against an onslaught of cyber attacks. This competition develops real-world skills that are highly sought after by companies like Raytheon. In fact, we’ve hired many former competitors and look forward to continuing to provide these students with a path into the workforce. 

Q: Women and minorities are underrepresented in STEM – how do we engage more underrepresented people?

In my opinion, this is a substantial concern for our nation. Diversity of talent and diversity of thought are important parts of a foundation for innovation. To be competitive and successful on the global stage, we need to fully leverage a diverse base of talent. That is at the center of our value system at Raytheon.

To drive more women and minorities into STEM careers we need focused programs that engage more underrepresented students earlier in life. 

As an example, we’ve partnered with the Museum of Science, Boston to bring engineering curriculum into underserved elementary schools across the country. By teaching classroom teachers how to integrate the principles of engineering – ask, imagine, plan, create, improve – the Engineering is Elementary program is helping to build classroom equity. This is because, according to the Museum’s research, the engineering design process removes the stigma from failure; instead, failure is an important part of the problem-solving process and a positive way to learn. And, since there is no one correct answer in engineering, all students can see themselves as successful.

The Museum of Science, Boston’s research also shows that when engineering is part of elementary instruction, students become more aware of the diverse opportunities for engineering, science, and technical careers—and they are more likely to see these careers as options they could choose.

At Raytheon, we support inclusiveness by providing an atmosphere where everyone feels valued and empowered to perform to their maximum potential, embracing our collective differences. If we can instill this among students at a young age and provide ongoing encouragement as they develop their skills, this will resonate as they enter the workforce.

Q: As an engineer yourself, what advice do you give to young people about pursuing a career in engineering?

STEM careers are wonderfully rewarding and challenging, and they are also much in demand. Those of us in STEM careers know how exciting our professions are. As an engineer, I try to share my excitement, passion and encouragement for engineering every chance I get. When asked by a young professional or student for my advice, I usually offer this: be a lifelong learner, learn by doing and work on your personal brand. If you do these three things, you will have a solid foundation of values and knowledge to guide you during your life and career.

Published: 04/18/2014

Last Updated: 05/04/2015

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