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The Podium

Old Ironsides and the next generation of naval technologists

The USS Constitution in Charlestown.

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/File 2011

The USS Constitution in Charlestown.

During the bicentennial of the War of 1812, Boston’s USS Constitution Museum is celebrating the critical role one celebrated vessel played in that war by opening the exhibit “Old Ironsides 1812 Discovery Center.” This is an opportunity for children of all ages to look back at the naval technology of yesteryear and marvel at Joshua Humphrey’s innovative hull design while visiting one of Boston’s most cherished landmarks. By encouraging our children to explore first-of-its-kind American technology that out-performed our nation’s adversaries 200 years ago, we hope to inspire tomorrow’s innovators, who will one day be responsible for ensuring our national security and driving our economic growth.

During the past 10 years, employment growth in science, technology, engineering and math, collectively known as STEM, was three times greater than that of non-STEM jobs, according to recent findings from the US Department of Commerce’s Economics and Statistics Administration. Forecasts from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics show that those sectors will continue to outpace other jobs for the next decade. Meanwhile, a report from the Economics and Statistics Administration indicates that STEM workers are also less likely to experience unemployment — something workers in today’s economy can certainly appreciate.

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Across the country, industry and business leaders are embracing STEM as the key to our nation’s economic recovery. However, we are not churning out STEM majors to the level needed to compete globally. In fact, the latest data clearly show that US student performance lags on the world stage when it comes to STEM. For example, the United States is ranked 23rd in science and 31st in math — trailing many Asian and European countries such as Finland and Singapore and leaving the future of our innovation economy in a precarious position.

The US military has one of the greatest needs on the planet for STEM workers — especially of the homegrown variety, as many of the most critical jobs require security clearance. Just as US naval historians would prefer not to imagine the War of 1812 without Old Ironsides, US naval commanders would prefer not to envision tomorrow’s Navy without a new generation of American-born technologists and innovators.

As a company of engineers committed to helping address the STEM challenge, Raytheon believes that reaching students while they are still young enough to be influenced is another key to success. This is why the company has focused so much of its collective energy for this issue at the middle school level. Studies have shown that once students advance to high school, it’s too late — negative perceptions about math and science begin to take hold and studentsquickly lose or camouflage interest in an effort to fit in or appear “cool.”

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The process of altering perceptions about math and science begins in the classroom and at home, but it must connect to the real world. In fact a recent study shows that while 70 percent of middle school students like math, 85 percent prefer hands-on, interactive activities to more traditional approaches such as textbooks when it comes to learning. This is why Raytheon so strongly supports interactive learning experiences, such as the USS Constitution Museum’s Old Ironsides 1812 Discovery Center, as a way of exciting and inspiring the next generation of innovators. We believe that connecting American students to the cool heritage of their forefathers might just be the first step to educating them in STEM subjects. Perhaps a family trip to the Discovery Center will inspire the crew and engineers of a “New Ironsides,” yet to be conceived.

Dr. Thomas A. Kennedy is a Raytheon Company vice president and president of Raytheon’s Integrated Defense.

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