Speaking at a conference hosted by The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas late last week, our chairman and CEO, Rex Tillerson, made an interesting statement that I think has implications for U.S. policy as we usher in a new Congress:
“Our nation is faced with great challenges: an economic and jobs challenge, with a fiscal house that is in disarray; an education system that is in need of reform; and an erosion of our technology and innovation global leadership position. I would submit that addressing our needs in education and technology as our highest priorities – if we address those, it will take us a long way down the road to ensuring America’s place in the global community is secure, and will underpin an economy that will allow us to get our fiscal house in order. These should be our highest priorities.”
In other words, if we fix education, we can help fix the other major challenges – our economy and our global competitiveness. That’s because innovation, technology, resourcefulness – the byproducts of education – are the tools the U.S. desperately needs to maintain its position as a global leader.
It’s a long-term view to addressing our nation’s challenges, instead of the short-term measures that are common in the political cycle. But it’s a long-term view we need, considering the educational situation in the U.S., specifically when it comes to math and science.
Three decades ago, the United States ranked third among developed nations for college students earning science and engineering degrees. Now, about 20 other countries rank ahead of us in these vital subjects.
As an engineer himself, and as head of a company that employs more than 16,000 scientists and engineers and uses advanced technology in all aspects of the business, Rex knows first hand the need for new generations of young people with a mastery of math, science, technology and engineering. And he joins many other leaders of American companies in realizing we have to do something to reverse this decline.
That’s why in 2007, ExxonMobil committed $125 million to help found the National Math and Science Initiative, a nation-wide effort to identify the most successful math and science education programs and scale them up to the national level. More recently, Rex joined the board of Change the Equation, a program that puts corporations committed to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education to work on the issue in close collaboration with the White House and state governments, as well as the education and foundation communities.
I invite you to read Rex’s speech. In it, he highlights the transformative technologies that, thanks to education and innovation, have been developed right here in the United States. They include 3-D seismic and enhanced oil recovery technologies; the application of directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing that have unlocked vast new supplies of natural gas; and the development of lightweight plastics that improve a car’s fuel economy.
The world will continue to need new technologies, not just in the energy industry but across all industries. If these technologies — and the jobs and economic leadership they enable — are to be developed in the United States, the groundwork for that innovation needs to be laid now, in America’s classrooms.