Inspiring kids with science leads to economic growth

Inspiring kids with science leads to economic growth

Austin Photo: News_Ray Almgren_STEM education_January 2013_girls science

Editor's note: CultureMap Austin partners with Leadership Austin — the region's premier provider of civic and community leadership development — in this on-going series of editorial columns meant to inform Austinites about issues facing our cityThe opinions of Leadership Austin alumni and faculty members are their own, and do not represent an official position of CultureMap or Leadership Austin.

In the next five years, science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs are projected to grow twice as fast as jobs in other fields according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. The demand for STEM graduates outpaces the rate of university students graduating with STEM degrees. Elementary and high school students don’t have the proficiency or interest needed to succeed in STEM degrees.

Giving students engaging, interactive learning experiences that stay with them long after they transition into college is critical to inspiring students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math, and to the growth of Central Texas. Without investing in our community’s future scientists and engineers, we will miss out on helping young people discover and develop a passion for technology and fail to foster the next generation of scientists and engineers. 

My love of science and engineering began when I was a kid as I started tinkering with gadgets and taking things apart to see how they worked.

What excited you as a kid and propelled you onto the career path you’re on? If you have a passion for technology like I do, recognize the abundant opportunities you have here in Austin to share that passion with a young person and ignite a love of learning in them.

Research consistently shows that girls, low-income children and minorities are least likely to pursue engineering and science careers, so engaging them with unique programs like FIRST Robotics competitions, GirlStart’s Girls in STEM conference, Austin Children’s Museum hands-on exhibits and the Huston-Tillotson University STEM Academy increases students’ interest and reduces biases associated with STEM pursuits.

Working with the children of Austin provides us the opportunity to address the shortage of access to technology, the need to build 21st century skills and the lack of interest and awareness in science-related fields.

Innovation and vision are key to continued growth for both Austin and National Instruments and collaboration between communities, companies and government is key to achieving the goal of one million more STEM graduates.

Austin is an attractive location for many of these graduates, not only because the entrepreneurial nature of the city, but also because of the technology current and companies that are here.

I’m fortunate to work for an engineering company that is uniquely positioned to advance engineering and science education through our own employees and resources. While we invest in engineering education globally, we are headquartered here in Austin and we specifically seek to address the knowledge gap that widens when students in underserved areas don’t have the same access as their peers.

I encourage all Austinites to take an active interest in STEM education, especially those with a STEM background.

Don’t know where to start? Check out these Austin-area programs:

  • Austin Pre-freshman Engineering Program and Saturday STEM Academy at Huston-Tillotson: Both programs help prepare high-achieving middle and high school students for college engineering and science studies with hands-on, experiential based learning.
  • FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology): Non-profit devoted to helping young people discover and develop a passion for STEM through afterschool robotics competition.
  • GirlStart: Specifically focuses on increasing girls’ interest in STEM, reducing gender stereotypes and introducing girls to careers in STEM.
  • Breakthrough Austin: Provides a path to college for low-income students who will be first-generation college graduates by offering innovative educational programs, including those focused on math and science, to children and their families. 
  • Austin Children’s Museum: Creates innovative learning experiences for children that equip them to be the next generation of creative problem solvers through programs like TechReach, which focuses on low-income families.
  • Skillpoint Alliance: Leads Central Texas students towards college and career success and meets employers’ needs for a qualified workforce.


Ray Almgren is the current chairman of the board of FIRST in Texas and a member of the National FIRST Executive Advisory Board. He also serves on advisory boards for schools of engineering, including those at The University of Texas at Austin, Southern Methodist University and Tufts University. As the Vice President of Marketing at National Instruments, Ray leads academic, corporate and platform software marketing.