We are missing the best chance for the US to succeed in the new economy by not preparing the greatest numbers of our promising students.
The vast majority of youth career programs serve children who are at either end of the need spectrum. At one end are programs that target the children at highest risk - chronic classroom absentees, school dropouts, those with criminal records, and those who have a history of substance abuse. At the other end are programs that are for children who are academically gifted and/or from high-income families.
Both of these groups deserve programs that will give them the best chance possible to succeed in life. However, there are few opportunities for young people who fall somewhere between these groups. In this gap are young people who have promise but lack the educational and social resources that are important to breaking the barriers to economic advancement.
The programs that do exist for these promising young people are limited in scope or highly specialized. Little opportunity is available for these young people who fall in the gap to benefit fully from good role models. As a consequence, we are leaving the largest segment of potential STEM professionals behind.
Nearly 1 in 5 employers cannot find candidates with the qualities required for high job performance.
In addition to technical skills, employers need people who possess personal integrity, critical thinking, teamwork and leadership skills, and ability to thrive through constant change. These are the qualities that mentoring is best at building - particularly among girls, minorities, and low-income children. Through dialogue, the Foundation matches the needs of industries that depend on growing a workforce with Science, Technology, Engineering, and or Math (STEM) skills with promising students and effective student mentoring programs. While innovation is encouraged, the Foundation will target programs with a track record of preparing academically promising low-income, female, and minority junior high school and high school students to pursue leadership positions in one of the STEM occupations.
We give top marks to programs that use learning plans that provide students with (1) one-on-one training, (2) career exploration, and (3) hands-on work experience. Parent involvement should be strongly encouraged and links to social services programs should be available. We especially seek programs that help students recognize their responsibility to society by offering them opportunities to invest their time and money in community service.