Senator Hewitt was met with no opposition as she proposed Bill 225, a bill aimed at seeing STEM programs grow and develop in Louisiana.
Bill 225 has three main goals. First, the bill will create a Louisiana STEM advisory council. This advisory council will coordinate delivery, increase student interest in STEM, and increase the number of women participating in STEM. The second component is to create a STEM diploma endorsement that will be established by the BESE Board. Lastly, Bill 225 will establish a STEM Education fund that will allow private industry contributions.
Senator Hewitt gave two reasons why this bill is so vital to the Louisiana community. “One of the best ways to grow the economy is to put people to work in high paying jobs and encouraging women to pursue STEM degrees will close the gender pay gap” said Hewitt.
Senator Hewitt then provided a few statistics to illustrate the problems Louisiana is facing regarding current STEM participation. Interest in STEM for males has increased from 41 percent to 47 percent in the last ten years, numbers higher than the national average. Interest in STEM for females has decreased from 16 percent to 13 percent in the last ten years, numbers substantially lower than the national average. In addition only 10 percent of all female graduates are graduating with STEM degrees while 32 percent of all male graduates have STEM degrees.
Senator Hewitt graduated from Louisiana State University with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. She was one of the first females to work on an off-shore oil drilling rig. Hewitt described first the lack of women in her degree program at LSU and then the lack of women in her field of occupation. “Looking around, it hasn’t changed a whole lot since then,” said Hewitt, “women can be highly successful in STEM; they just need to be properly encouraged.”
Senator Hewitt is one of only three legislators who are engineers and she is the only female engineer. “Part of my responsibility is to advocate for such a silent demographic” said Hewitt.
“This sounds like a great proposal but we are broke. I think there is some really dynamic potential but I wonder about the cost side of it” said Senator Milkovich in response to Senator Hewitt’s proposal. Senator Hewitt responded by explaining that initially the bill proposes steps that would not cost anything. The advisory council, diploma endorsement, and education fund would merely require a few individuals to contribute some of their time to plan for future success.
“We can’t just keep talking about how we can cut spending. We need to create high paying jobs to stimulate the economy. STEM is the secret” said Hewitt.
Senator Milkovich then asked if Senator Hewitt’s “vision is consistent with that in the science and math programs in Nacogdoches?” Senator Hewitt said there are pockets of success all over but “the vision of this bill is to create a comprehensive state wide STEM program.” Hewitt also clarified that in one year everyone would receive a report detailing how the program is doing in order to re-evaluate and reassess.
Senator Boudreaux then asked Senator Hewitt where she thinks the program could potentially go in the future. “I want this program to be constantly growing and expanding. I want to create an engaging, hands-on, action-oriented culture around STEM, making it fun and attractive, especially for women” said Hewitt.
Senator Walsworth proposed a slight change in the timeline outlined in the proposal. “A monthly meeting is a lot. Once the report has been completed we may want to make it a quarterly meeting and still keep the chairman able to pull us together whenever he deems it necessary” said Walsworth. Senator Hewitt replied by saying that “when we are getting started, monthly meetings will be necessary to gain momentum but after we have established protocol we can back off and have quarterly meetings.”
Senator Mizell expressed his concern that rural areas might fall off of the map simply because they have fewer resources. Hewitt assured him that “I will make a point of including rural communities.” Senator Mizell also said that he had recently attended a STEM workshop in Hammond put on by Calvin Mackey. While at the workshop he heard this analogy, “Lebron James didn’t start playing basketball when he was 18. You have to put it in their hands early.”