William H. Swanson, chairman and CEO of Raytheon Company, outlined how businesses can play a role in meeting this challenge at Northeastern’s CEO Breakfast Forum on Tuesday morning. Photo by Mary Knox Merrill.
Businesses, government and academia must inspire and cultivate the next generation of leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers in order to preserve America’s economic future and global leadership in innovation, Raytheon Chairman and CEO William H. Swanson said Tuesday morning at Northeastern University’s CEO Breakfast Forum.
Swanson – whose company is a technology and innovation leader specializing in defense, homeland security and other government markets throughout the world – addressed 150 business and academic leaders at the event. He said America’s strongest asset is its innovative spirit and determination to pursue solutions to society’s greatest challenges. But he pointed to statistics that show U.S. students are falling behind other countries in interest and proficiency in the STEM disciplines.
As a result, Swanson said businesses have an obligation to help reverse this trend by better identifying workforce trends and growing job sectors, through public advocacy and by encouraging employees to volunteer and mentor youth. Doing so, he said, will bolster the nation’s economy, its security and the development of a highly skilled crop of future leaders.
“Virtually every business is technology dependent today, so we all have a stake in replenishing the STEM pipeline,” Swanson said. “Businesses certainly see the benefits of a stronger STEM pipeline with a highly skilled workforce driving innovative new products, systems and solutions.”
Northeastern’s CEO Breakfast Forums recognize leading CEOs who are invited to speak to an audience of other chief executive officers and senior executives from the Greater Boston area.
Swanson outlined a range of ways Raytheon is meeting these challenges, including the company’s MathMovesU initiative which engages students in math and science through hands-on, interactive activities. He said more than 14,000 employees are also involved in volunteering or mentoring programs, and that they collectively log more than 170,000 volunteer hours annually.
“Those of us in STEM careers know how exciting our professions are, and we need to share that excitement and passion every chance we get,” Swanson said. “Sometimes all it takes is a single moment or spark to inspire a future engineer or scientist to pursue a STEM career, and many times this inspiration comes from eager volunteers or mentors.”
Swanson said Northeastern is also doing its part through innovative programs at the university’s Center for STEM Education, and through its signature co-op program in which students gain real-world experience working at companies around the globe and then bring that knowledge back to the classroom.
Security is one of Northeastern’s top research themes, along with health and sustainability, and President Joseph E. Aoun said this commitment to national security includes strong relationships with the military and ROTC as well as the defense industry. “We have made defense and homeland security a key part of our research agenda,” he said.
Aoun and Swanson both noted the longstanding partnership between their two institutions, which includes experiential learning opportunities for students and research collaborations.