Expand STEM Education by Including PROMOTES ACT in Final NDAA

By Al Thompson, vice president of US Government Relations for Intel

As Congress finalizes the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), there is an opportunity to significantly expand STEM education in the United States. This would happen through including the Providing Resources and Organization to Maximize Opportunities for Training and Education in STEM (PROMOTES) Act in the final NDAA.

This bipartisan legislation, introduced by Reps. Anthony Brown (D-MD), Michael Waltz (R-FL), Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) and Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), and Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Gary Peters (D-MI) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), will establish a grant program to increase the training and education of Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

As a former Junior ROTC cadet, I know first-hand the tremendous impact this program has on students’ education. I urge the NDAA conferees to include the PROMOTES Act and give our youth a chance to shape our nation’s future.

Last year, similar legislation was not included in the final version of the NDAA. This was a missed opportunity resulting in the loss of a full year of STEM learning for Junior ROTC students. The House version of the FY 2021 NDAA includes the PROMOTES Act, and it’s critical that the final conferenced language include this provision. The stakes in shaping our future technological have never been higher as our economic and national security are dependent on a technical skilled workforce.

There is an urgent need to increase access to STEM training for diverse talent. Many of the 500,000 Junior ROTC cadets nationwide are underrepresented minorities. For example, in Oklahoma, only 0.3% of students who took the AP Computer Science exam were Native American (compared to 9.8% of the total Oklahoma population. This program is a powerful way to expand opportunity and diversify the technology workforce, and it’s already working in states like Oklahoma and others.

A JROTC-CS Demonstration Project has enabled three Oklahoma Air Force JROTC partner schools to increase capacity for computer science and cybersecurity, and students are succeeding despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Teachers have attended cybersecurity professional development sessions, AP Computer Science Principles courses are being implemented and JROTC cadets were able to participate in the JROTC Summer Cyber Academy this year.

The PROMOTES Act would provide the critical support needed to prepare these students with the necessary skills to develop future innovations and become the next generation of technologists. This legislation will further strengthen industry and government efforts to diversify the future STEM workforce and fill the existing skills gap.

Congress has the opportunity to help grow a diverse, well-trained generation of STEM talent. We must ensure that our future innovators are adequately trained and supported in critical areas like cybersecurity, artificial intelligence (AI) and computer science to advance not only our national security but also U.S. competitiveness.