Bill would bolster Junior Reserve Officer Corps education

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The Promote Act now pending in Congress would expand the Defense Department’s support of science, technology and math education for students in the Junior Reserve Officer Corps program. Some big tech companies are strongly backing this bipartisan bill. Among them, Intel Corporation. With why this bill matters, Intel’s senior director for global partnerships and initiatives Brian Gonzalez joined Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

Interview transcript:

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Tom Temin: Mr. Gonzalez. Good to have you on.

Brian Gonzalez: Thank you, Tom. Great to be here with you.

Tom Temin: Well, let’s talk about the smaller thing right now the Promotes Act which I guess is part of the NDAA yet to pass. What would this particular provision do?

Brian Gonzalez: Well, I’m excited to talk to you about the Promote Act today Tom. The Promote Act would increase the capacity for high quality computer science education for Junior ROTC cadets and their schools by authorizing partnerships with expert nonprofits such as computer science for all. It addresses a key problem, Tom, that right now, only 32% of the Junior ROTC high schools offer advanced placement computer science programs, so most cadets can’t take advanced computer science, even if they want it to. The Promote Act bridges that gap.

Tom Temin: Got it. I guess there’s probably many more high level placement math programs at other high schools that don’t have Junior ROTC. And I guess nothing you can really do about that, that’s the military’s problem.

Brian Gonzalez: Well, I think our focus has been on supporting the Junior ROTC because it represents an untapped potential. Tom, there’s 545,000 cadets all over the United States. If you look at computer science programs, there’s about 160,000 students involved in AP Computer Science at any given time. So this has a potential to unleash this talent. And these cadets, and I’ve met them Tom, they’re talented, diverse young people with potential to leave. Very diverse. 55% minority students, 40% female and 50% of all the cadets come from Title One schools. So there’s a great opportunity to bring this access to this talent.

Tom Temin: Got it. And for Intel Corporation and I guess Microsoft and a few of the other biggies are supporting the Promote Act and this activity in general. How do you promote it and support it other than saying yeah we like this particular bill.

Brian Gonzalez: Our involvement at Intel goes back to presentation that our Chief Diversity and Inclusion officer Barbara Whye made, and she had the honor of testifying on a hearing about STEM education. And this is where all of this starts. She presented this concept of looking at the diversity and looking at opportunities and new programs. And this area of Junior ROTC was right there. So the concept was well received in Congress. And at that point, we then engaged with specialist around computer science, this organization called Computer Science for All, Ruthe Farmer, their chief evangelist. And she had already been looking at this concept, we engaged with her and at that point, we brought other industry partners to support it. Because those companies like our companies, we rely on talent to grow and thrive. So we need to find ways to increase the access of computer science to these talented students. In this case cadets all over the country.

Tom Temin: I was gonna ask you, yes Intel is one of those companies that has an almost insatiable need for science, technology, electrical engineering, you name it, type of talent, software engineering. So do you also have a concomitant program at the other end of the pipeline when people say leave the military and are looking for jobs? Do you have a way to kind of vacuum up some of those top people?

Brian Gonzalez: Absolutely. We’re always looking for top talent. We have a number of opportunities for folks that are coming back from service. We look at internships, in my own program, we have a number of folks that have had military careers and now come and join Intel and bring that very unique expertise. And that’s what’s important about this program because it prepares those students that enter the military, up to 545,000. cadets, Tom, about 30%, the statistics that I’ve seen, enter into military career, but the other 70% do not. And that represents a significant pool and talent. And these Tom are the next generation of creators, developers and innovators. Companies such as Intel, we need that. That’s what fuels us and keeps us going. So we need that talent and having the military service in addition to that, obviously, is going to be an advantage for those that are looking for careers in the technology sector.

Tom Temin: Now this bill would authorize the Secretary of Defense to issue grants to schools for JROTC stem training, to fund support for instructors, the acquisition of materials, hardware, software, and so on. Is there a channel by which companies like Intel can also donate or otherwise support these particular schools?

Brian Gonzalez: Absolutely. We’ve been focused most recently because of the pandemic, there’s been a great disruption in the whole education sector, as we’ve noticed. And part of my work is to help address that. And at Intel we have a strong focus on making sure that there’s a capable technology platform to enhance student outcomes. And that means the right devices, conductivity and content. And so it’s part of my full time job. This Junior ROTC promotes initiative was an opportunity that we saw, and we’re fully committed, and we’re working towards that. But we have a broader interest and a broader play in technology, not only in the United States, but all over the world.

Tom Temin: And you mentioned Title One schools that have a lot of these JROTC students that are in STEM and it’s a great opportunity for them. I imagine that’s probably among the places where maybe a little bit of technology injection would help so that they have equal footing with, say, students at the more wealthy county schools with their Mac books and their PCs and their tablets and their surfaces.

Brian Gonzalez: Yeah, no, you’re right. I mean, there’s 50% of the cadets come from Title One schools. And many of those programs do not have a computer science. But that’s true, like I said about a lot of schools around the country. But to your point, there’s a need for a technology platform that’s focused on learning outcomes. And this is true for all students in urban areas and rural areas, in schools that have a lot of resources, and in schools that need the resources. Our focus has been around Title One schools, but we look at this more broadly, because again, the talent gap is one that is significant. And so we have to look at the entire education ecosystem if you will, and look at all the schools and make sure that students are learning what’s going to be most valuable for them in terms of workforce preparation.

Tom Temin: Has any thought been given to the fact that because so much public education is now virtual, if a student is in a school that does not have sufficient classes in some of these higher level STEM fields, and that student nevertheless has the capacity and aptitude for it, but a neighboring jurisdiction does have those with everything online. What’s the difference if someone audits say or tunes into a class online at the neighboring jurisdiction? It seems so obvious it couldn’t possibly happen in the public sector the way schools are structured — but is that a thought that has crossed anybody’s mind?

Brian Gonzalez: It’s an interesting proposition. And to the point that I made earlier in terms of looking at Junior ROTC, what we see is not a lack of talent, but talent that lacks access. So where there’s an opportunity to bring in shared resources, we see schools helping each other. Because essentially what we look at is a community of learning, right. And a lot of things that we’re seeing now is teacher generated content, student generated content. So the technology itself affords us an opportunity to kind of highlight the capabilities of students and share those in a way that we can bring it to to many, many other folks and kind of level up the learning. So I think that is an opportunity. I think that with the pandemic, there’s been a new thinking, this is not a just a new normal. It’s the way that we have to transform education to be more effective.

Tom Temin: Brian Gonzalez is senior director for global partnerships and initiatives at Intel Corporation. Thanks so much for joining me.

Brian Gonzalez: Thank you, Tom. It’s my pleasure.