When I was serving as the Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s CEO, I was gratified to be able to leverage the business skills I learned in the private sector to create and secure funding for programs to make college attainable for more American students.  Those programs helped thousands of students over their social and financial obstacles to college. Most recently, while I served as the U.S. Undersecretary of Education, I came to realize just how much more needs to be done to help students overcome the academic obstacles to college success.


That’s why I’m taking on a new challenge this March as CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI).   NMSI is transforming education in America so more students can succeed in the higher-paying jobs of the high-tech, global economy.


I’ve seen the statistics and can confirm the challenge is urgent.  The gap between what will be needed for our workforce to thrive and where we are currently as a nation is severe. Recent SAT and ACT results showed that more than half of our country’s college-bound seniors are not ready to do college-level work.  That’s right: the students who want to go to college have not been prepared in our public schools to succeed there. Only 43 percent of SAT takers in the class of 2012 graduated high school with the academic preparedness associated with college success. The ACT results also confirmed an achievement gap among students by race and ethnicity: only 13 percent of Hispanic and five percent of African-American students met the college-ready benchmarks.


As a Latina and educator, I find that gap very troubling.  We’ve got to do more make sure all students are prepared for college work. My own parents insisted that I work hard to get into college and work even harder to complete my degrees.  They would not have settled for anything else.  We can’t either as a nation.


Earning a degree will be essential for the next generation, especially in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).   Why STEM?  That’s where the jobs are.


A report last year by the Commerce Department showed that growth in STEM jobs has been three times greater than growth in non-STEM jobs over the last 10 years. And throughout the next decade, STEM occupations are projected to grow by 17 percent, compared to 9.8 percent growth for other occupations.


STEM jobs are also where the best salaries are.  STEM workers earn 26 percent more on average than non-STEM workers and are less likely to experience joblessness.  The implications are clear:  Students who don’t want to get stuck in menial jobs or end up in the unemployment line, need to sign up for Algebra.


Yet nationally the share of Latinos earning STEM degrees or certificates is a trickle – only eight percent of the total. Given that Hispanics are projected to account for 75 percent of the national’s labor force between 2010 and 2020, increasing the number graduating in STEM fields is critical.  We urgently need to accelerate our efforts in math and science across the country — with those kinds of statistics, how can we not? The need to act is becoming more crucial every day as our economy inches along and other countries race to pass us by.  That’s why it’s crucial to help organizations like NMSI move forward with all possible speed.


NMSI is already making headway by training classroom teachers in 29 states to inspire more K-12 students to excel.  At the same time, NMSI has recruited more than 6,000 high-achieving college students to become math and science teachers through the highly-regarded UTeach program.


I realized during my not-for-profit and government service that the business skills I learned as an executive at AT&T could be used to tackle a social issue. Today’s non-profit organizations need to have sound strategic planning and should be held accountable for results. NMSI has delivered on both fronts.  Schools in NMSI’s Advanced Placement program achieved a 79 percent increase in qualifying scores in AP math, science and English the very first year – while the rest of the U.S. had a 7.3 percent increase.  What’s more, the program increased qualifying scores by African-American and Hispanic students by 107 percent in just one year! That’s the kind of jump-start we need in education.   NMSI has been able to sustain those results in schools year after year.


My goal is to take NMSI to the next level of success.  NMSI has already touched the lives of 2.1 million students with its programs.  But there are millions more who deserve a realistic shot at success.  If you know a school leader or university leader who ought to add these proven programs — or a donor who could invest in our country’s future workforce — tell them about the success NMSI is having.  Or better yet, send them to me.


Sara Martinez Tucker, President and CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative, previously served as Under Secretary in the U.S. Department of Education from 2006-2008.  Prior to assuming that leadership role, she was CEO and President for nine years of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF), and also enjoyed a 16-year career with AT&T, last serving as a regional vice president for AT&T’s Global Business Communications Systems.