Eric Schwarz is the CEO and Co-Founder of Citizen Schools and the Executive Chairman of US2020.
Today was an exciting day for national service and volunteerism. President Obama honored the 5,000th Daily Point of Light Award winner and President George H.W. Bush for his lifetime of public service including as founder of the Points of Light movement which promotes the power of individuals to change the world through service. Building on the tradition of bipartisan support for national service and volunteerism, President Obama announced the creation of the National Service Task Force led by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). The Task Force of cabinet-level appointees will look at new ways to expand national service to meet needs in America in collaboration with other Federal agencies and the private sector.
Last month, I wrote a blog post in response to Gen. McChrystal’s call to national service in the Wall Street Journal. Young Americans are hungry for national service opportunities, but there aren’t enough positions to accommodate all who want to serve. In fact at Citizen Schools and AmeriCorps overall, there are about seven qualified applicants for every available position.
The new taskforce will help open up more service positions to complement the critically important work of CNCS programs like AmeriCorps. The task force will be co-chaired by Wendy Spencer, CEO of CNCS, and Cecilia Munoz, head of the Domestic Policy Council. It will look to create additional cross-agency service collaborations - building on FEMA Corps, School Turnaround AmeriCorps, and STEM AmeriCorps - and pursue other ways to advance options for more Americans to serve.
National service is already having a major impact on our country’s future. One example is the Citizen Schools National Teaching Fellowship, one of many AmeriCorps opportunities, which adds time and resources to schools that are stretched too thin.
AmeriCorps Teaching Fellows provide academic support, make connections between college and careers, and help students build critical skills to prepare for the 21st century workplace. Thanks to these AmeriCorps Teaching Fellows and hundreds of volunteers from corporations and organizations across the country, Expanded Learning Time (ELT) schools are seeing 10-20 percentage point gains in math and English in just three years. Students are graduating at a rate 20% higher than their matched peers. And they are excited to become future engineers, doctors, and computer programmers, expressing interest in STEM careers at more than twice the rate of their peers.
It is exciting to hear President Obama and President Bush come together to harness American idealism and national service as a way to solve the great challenges the country faces. Citizen Schools is tackling several of these challenges head-on, including the current STEM education challenge. The demand for professionals in the STEM fields is projected to dramatically outpace the supply of STEM graduates over the coming decades, partly because many students, particularly girls and underrepresented minorities, receive little exposure to STEM opportunities. A Lemelson-MIT survey found that a majority of teenagers may be discouraged from pursuing STEM careers because they do not know anyone who works in these fields and they do not understand what people in these fields do.
Through Citizen Schools’ volunteer-led “apprenticeship” opportunities and the newly formed US2020 initiative, students will have the chance to make that connection between school and STEM careers. US2020 aims to help prepare the next generation of innovators by recruiting and training STEM professionals to lead school-based and extra-curricular projects with students, such as building robots, conducting medical experiments, designing video games, and launching rockets.
By bringing one million mentors into classrooms across the country by the year 2020 through nonprofits like Citizen Schools, the Girl Scouts, 4H and more, students will be able to have the inspiration they deserve. Those moments of discovery would not be possible without dedicated AmeriCorps members and volunteers. They are truly points of light.
With the new Task Force, STEM AmeriCorps and US2020 will have more opportunities for VISTA and AmeriCorps members to act as the essential mobilizers of volunteer STEM mentors, helping them connect underserved children to opportunities in STEM fields. I believe national service can bridge the gaps that exist in education and I am excited to work with AmeriCorps and others to get more STEM professionals out of their labs and their cubicles and into classrooms and extended day programs.