So what does India’s ability to send an Orbiter spacecraft to Mars, have to do with equity in American STEM education?

Expanding science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) study opportunities, will bring a nation its own reward.

The fact that Indian scientist and engineers were able to pull off this amazing feat; at an extremely low cost and on the first try, is really something worthy of praise! And I have already heard the criticism in some quarters saying: how could they invest in this type of scientific activity when so many of her citizens are living in poverty. But in fairness to India that same charge could be leveled against nations like: Russia, Japan and yes the United States (for those who don’t know we have people living in extreme poverty in the United States). We engage in a great deal (most in the world) of scientific research that on the surface does not appear to directly connect to an everyday “people problem” that U.S. citizens may face. However, even a brief review of the history of science, inventions and innovations will reveal that a great deal of very practical, necessary and useful, lifesaving, and life-improving discoveries are the products (intentional and unintentional); of what may appear to the science-lay public to be some type of “esoteric” , “not useful” scientific research. And as an educators we are always sensitive to what a big feat like this “space shot”, will produce in the minds, and aspirations of Indian children, and Indian educators. If this national accomplishment inspires higher expectations, higher levels of participation in the pursuit of STEM subject studies, greater gender and class diversity in the pursuit of STEM studies, the expansion and improvement of K-12 stem programs and teachers, armed with a greater sense of pride and efficacy; then the investment will pay off big time for India going forward into the future. I can personally testify to this power and influence as a product and beneficiary of the US response to the October 4, 1957 Russian Sputnik space launch achievement. A few years later, I stepped into an 8th grade science class taught by a serious and certified science teacher, and a classroom stocked full of scientific lab equipment and materials. Which says that one aspect of American history, is that she can accomplish what she chooses to accomplish, once she sets her mind to do it! The operative factor here is, choice, and the will to make that choice happen. And this leads me to my concern with India’s accomplishment; (which has nothing to do with the ethics of appropriate scientific research) and what it symbolizes. For more years that I care to remember. Many of us involved with STEM education have been doing our STEM education version of Paul Revere; trying to warn, plead with U.S. political decision makers, STEM reliant corporations, and educational policy makers that if we don’t open up the opportunity for non-White male Americans to enter the STEM fields, we as a nation would be setting ourselves up for major problems in the future. Well that future is rapidly approaching. The US is now looking at a majority Black and Brown public school systems; and yet we are not preparing and equipping these students to step into STEM careers. As the present group of White males began to retire from their STEM positions; and the White male birthrate continues to drop (and drop in our schools). What is our plan to replace these STEM practitioners? Someone once said: “You can’t beat somebody, with nobody”. That, however would seem to be our plan of action in addressing our STEM needs in the present-future. But the Indian space achievement signals an additional contributor to our problem. This accomplishment could also mean that a group of nations are “STEM developing” to the point where they can began to create and offer opportunities for their STEM students; including those who choose to study in the US. Heretofore the US has depended on the STEM positions “gaps”; being filled by those not born in the U.S. But could these folks begin to think about taking and keeping their acquired knowledge and talents home? Why emigrate away from home, family and friends, when you can be an engineer, chemist or biophysicist in your home country; will you get paid less, perhaps yes; but you could also enjoy a better quality of life; as your pay has greater value at home. This possible future scenario reminds me of one of my travels to a “developing country”, and meeting an engineer who earned his degree in the U.S. He said: “In the past we “imported” “science and technology experts” from Europe and the US; at a great cost to the nation. Their children attended “special schools for foreigners”; they sent a great deal of their money back to their “motherland”. Now people like me can invest and spend all of our money in the nation; my children attend good schools; but they are schools populated by students who like them, are from this nation. Hopefully, these children will be the future “experts”, who will continue to STEM-develop our country.” He continued; “assuming I was able to get a job in the US, and presumably make more money; there is just no way that I could enjoy the level of life style, the “first class citizenship”, I am enjoying here.” We were sitting and talking in his beautiful house, a house that could only be described as a mansion! Another concern arises as we enter what seems to be the beginning of an era of intense concern over national security issues, and international industrial espionage; it is clear that the U.S. government and U.S. companies are going to find that there will be an increased level of STEM activities that have a national/corporate security linkage. There will be an increased need for this work to be done by American citizens, and on U.S. soil. A retailer may be able (for now) to set up a “call center” and “technical support” office in a non-U.S. country; but in the ever-growing international cyber war and internet security era; I am not sure America will be able to “farm out” its national security or corporate/patent protection securing efforts. Perhaps (I hope) this Indian accomplishment will incite and inspire a review our present “sifting” and denying approach to STEM education; to borrow from the world of sports: sometimes you just have to play with the team you have; not the team from the past, or the team you wish you had.