OP-ED: Investments in STEM Education Are A Key to Our Military Strength

By Dr. Mel Schiavelli
Dr. Mel Schiavelli
Dr. Mel Schiavelli

Recently I watched a Science Channel show about Isaac Asimov and his focus on how robots would one day be integrated into everyday life and society.

One segment featured soldiers in Iraq using small robotic devices to locate and disarm IEDs. The teenaged operator spoke of how the robot saved the lives of his buddies and had essentially become a valued member of his platoon. That sentiment played out viscerally when the robot was blown up by a pipe bomb. The young G.I. gathered up his damaged robot much like he would have an injured soldier, and carried its battered remains back to base, where he begged technicians to “save him”.

Afterwards I wondered how long it took our incoming recruits to learn the skills necessary for success on the battlefield. Given the fact that most of these young heroes are entering military service directly out of high school, I wondered how many had the necessary science, engineering, technology and mathematics (STEM) skills to quickly learn the technologies they were using.

On average it costs about $125,000 per year to feed, equip, clothe and train each soldier. Much of that cost is incurred during the long months of training they undergo for their varied specialties. Training that, in many respects, mirrors the core STEM subjects.

Today’s warriors to have a working knowledge of computer science, physics, algebra, aeronautics, logistics, astronomy, rocketry, engineering and more. How beneficial would it be to our nation’s military forces if recruits already had this knowledge before they entered basic training?

There is no doubt our service members are well-versed in these subjects by the time they leave military service – a testament to the outstanding job our Armed Forces does in training them. But how much easier and more cost efficient would it be if these recruits had this kind of training while in high school?

As federal deficits grow, pressure is being put on military leaders to squeeze every penny they can out of declining defense budgets. How much could be saved in training alone with a ready-made pool of recruits that could be plugged into duty after only a few months, rather than the year or more it can take to train soldiers in the more advanced technologies?

Perhaps the time has come for our military leaders to weigh in on the ongoing efforts to reform American education and insist upon a greater focus on STEM skills. Working hand in hand with educators and institutions, a curriculum could be developed that directly addresses their needs and is integrated into the classes that thousands of high school ROTC students take on a daily basis.

Or perhaps go even farther and launch a STEM-oriented curriculum for the 90,000 some thousand students that are being educated on military bases around the world. These two groups would serve as a real-world laboratory for the development of a national STEM curriculum that could be adopted as part of our national educational policy.

There is no doubt that STEM-trained recruits will benefit the nation’s military as it will reduce the costs of training, speed their assignment to duty, and make for a better, more disciplined caliber of soldier entering the service. America’s STEM-oriented educators stand ready to assist our nation’s Armed Forces in this most worthy effort. We understand the military’s needs and are looking for direction and engagement in implementing such a STEM-heavy curriculum. A better soldier, and more efficient military will be the happy result. After all, they are tomorrow’s STEM workforce.

* * *


Dr. Mel Schiavelli is president of Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in Pennsylvania and a charter member of the Manufacturing Institute’s Education Council. Founded in 2001, Harrisburg University is the only STEM-focused comprehensive university between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Comments powered by Disqus