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We have an epidemic.

There is a disconnect between the marketplace and our education system. If we look at our local economy in Seattle, we see a global hub for technology, global health, and international trade. According to the 2010 “New Economy” Index, Washington State ranks second in the U.S. for innovation and entrepreneurship. Great news!

But while our innovation economy is comparatively thriving,

  • Washington ranks 46th in the US for participation in science and engineering graduate programs;
  • Washington is one of ten states in which the achievement gap in math and science is growing;
  • Over 50% of Washington community college students enroll in remedial courses, most often math;
  • Average amount of science instruction Washington’s 4th graders receive per week is only 20 minutes, the lowest in the U.S. (Washington STEM).

In response to the divide between the needs of our innovation economy and how students are educated, Four Peaks launched “Hacking Edu” this month. The goal is to boldly re-imagine higher education, moving away from an industrialized, hierarchical model to a more nimble, collaborative one.

As Weber Shandwick’s resident blogger for the “Hacking Edu” series (Disclosure: Weber Shandwick is a proud sponsor), I found the conversation to be refreshingly disruptive with dialog bouncing from the power of online universities to engage adult learners to how game play is used to inspire new scientific discovery.

Among the disruptive ideas, one stood out – STEAM. That’s right, STEAM, not STEM, the movement to invest in science, technology, engineering and math education.

Four Peaks host Hanson Hosein and poet and scholar Mark Gonzales (right) posed the idea of STEAM, putting an “A” for “Arts” in the equation. As I work in an industry that intersects strategic communications, creative and digital technology, I agree that the arts must be a part of our education agenda. Innovation comes from exercising our creative imagination and unique voices. Besides, I think that our community is more fun, engaging, and frankly more socially just when we foster the arts. Adding the “A” to STEM is disruptive and potentially makes the argument for STEM programs even stronger.

“Hacking Edu” is an experiment in crowd-sourcing an innovative idea to bridge the widening gap in our higher education system. I’m very curious to hear the result tomorrow night, April 25, at their culminating event with Peter Diamandis, CEO of X PRIZE. See you there!

Photo credit to Four Peaks.

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