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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: STEM education “Foundation for Jobs in the 21st Century”

Former NBA star says students who focus on science, technology, engineering and math will help build a more innovative future



By Kevin Walker
Posted March 23, 2012 03:58 PM

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and STEM education
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and STEM education

As part of his effort to promote STEM education and learning among children, former NBA superstar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar recently encouraged students at an inner-city school in Chicago to pursue studies in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math.

His message about STEM education programs mirrors the conclusions of recent U.S. Department of Commerce reports that found students who focus on STEM programs excelled at landing good-paying jobs over the past decade, a trend expected to continue.

“If America is to maintain our high standard of living, we must continue to innovate,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “We are competing with nations many times our size and STEM learning represents the engines of innovation. With these engines we can lead the world, because knowledge is power.”

Abdul-Jabbar appeared at the function with Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, who is known for his advocacy of STEM programs. Quinn said putting an emphasis on STEM is a way of fulfilling the mandate that “education systems must always put our children first.”

“STEM gives students in Illinois and throughout the United States the tools they need to be competitive in the global economy of today and tomorrow,” said Quinn.

Abdul-Jabbar stressed the need for STEM education to the teenagers, all students at the Martin Luther King Jr. College Preparatory High School. He shared how his studies at UCLA helped prepare him for life after basketball.

“Science, technology, engineering and mathematics, those subjects are very important for any young person out there. If you start thinking about those types of things right now, those subjects and paying attention to them in school and getting good grades in those subjects…that type of foundation will be the foundation for jobs in the 21st Century,” Abdul-Jabbar told the students, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

A group of 2011 reports by the Department of Commerce found the number of jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics grew three times faster over the past decade than jobs in industries not related to those fields. The reports also found that average pay in STEM fields is 26% higher than in other occupations.

Additionally, the Commerce Department found that regardless of race, higher college graduation rates are associated with higher shares of workers with STEM jobs.

John Griffin Jr., president of AGB Investigative Services, a minority-owned cyber security firm, backed up the statistics. “When I am hiring, one of the most important things I look for is a good education,” he said. “Students who learn about information technology and computers at an earlier age have a leg up because the skills they have are what companies need to compete in today’s economy.”

Abdul-Jabbar is the author of “What Color Is My World? The Lost History of African-American Inventors,” which promotes STEM learning. He also, along with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and U.S. Attorney Gen. Eric Holder, recently promoted the ’Let’s Read. Let’s Move” program that stresses the importance of summer reading for children. Abdul-Jabbar’s Skyhook Foundation promotes learning and funds scholarship programs. On a post on his Website, Abdul-Jabbar wrote: “I firmly believe that the common attributes underlying academic and athletic excellence (discipline, leadership, teamwork, sportsmanship and conflict resolution) are essential for ensuring the positive growth and development of our youth.”

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