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Author's profile photo Celia Brown

Building a STEM Talent Pipeline: The High-Tech High School

In the United States, employment in STEM occupations is projected to grow nearly two times faster than the average for all occupations over the next four years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. During that time, tech companies alone will need to fill 430,000 STEM jobs. Developing a reliable and skilled workforce to fill those future jobs will require significant changes to our education system in the United States, as well as a partnership between government and corporations.

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In August, SAP announced that it will guide the creation and development of a six-year high school in Queens, N.Y. Informally called the SAP Business Technology Early College High School, or B-TECH, the school will offer a technology-focused curriculum and confer both a high-school diploma and an advanced associate’s degree. B-TECH is set to welcome its first cohort of about 100 ninth-grade students in September 2014. The goal is to develop the next generation of talent in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). SAP is also advancing similar school models in Chicago and Vancouver, with the goal of a fall launch as well.

I recently caught up with Jackie Montesinos-Suarez, head of corporate social responsibility for SAP, to learn about SAP’s intentions for B-TECH, as well as the pivotal role high schools play in preparing students for 21st-century careers.

Q: What exactly is B-TECH?

JMS: In 2011, the Harvard Graduate School of Education released a report titled “Pathways to Prosperity.” It was an all-hands-on-deck call to transform education in the United States.

Thirty years ago, the United States was ranked No. 1 in high-school completion rates. Today we’re ranked No. 13. And while 70 percent of high-school graduates go on to college, many of those 70 percent are unprepared, and only half earn a four-year college degree. As a result, there’s a huge gap in the supply of skills to fill 21st-century jobs.

The Harvard report recommended what it calls an early college high-school model. The goal is to ensure that kids not only finish high school, but are also prepared for college, and are on-track for a career after college. And they called for industry partners like SAP to get involved.

So, SAP began working with the New York State Education Department to create a high school in Queens, N.Y. In fact, the school was one of 16 winners in a statewide competition to form public-private partnerships to develop new schools and curriculums. B-TECH is a six-year high school, essentially ninth through 14th grade. Students will come out of the school with a high-school diploma issued by the State of New York, as well as an advanced associate’s degree from Queensborough Community College, with a built-in SAP certification.

Q: How will the curriculum differ from that of traditional high schools?

JMS: Students will essentially follow a traditional high-school curriculum, but they will also choose from two technology tracks: Technology Design, and Technology Developer. So they will be learning about and gaining experience in technology from Day One.

In addition, the school days are longer, with academic labs to close any gaps in literacy or numeracy. There will also be a focus on business acumen to help students learn things like presentation, design thinking, and problem-solving skills. Additionally, we’ll be implementing a teacher-training program so the teachers in our school are truly translating what the SAP culture is all about in their classrooms. In their last two years of school, students will take college-level courses taught by college professors, who also will be SAP-trained.

Q: How specifically is SAP involved?

JMS: SAP will be closely involved with the planning and development of the school. In addition, every student will have an SAP mentor to help ensure they stay focused on their education, and to help them understand what kinds of careers are available in IT. Students will also have opportunities to work with SAP technologies such as SAP HANA and SAP Mobile Apps. And we hope to develop opportunities for internships or work-study programs.

The high school’s new principal just finished an externship at SAP, where she immersed herself in SAP technology and our culture. We’ll also be working with the teachers to ensure they have appropriate training in technology.

Q: Is SAP planning to open similar high schools in other cities?

JMS: We’re just beginning to ramp up a high school following the same model in Chicago. And we’re exploring opening a third high school in Vancouver, because Canada faces many of the same education challenges as the United States.

Q: Why is SAP’s new B-TECH high school a good solution to challenges facing high school education?

JMS: The way the system has always worked is that kids go to school for so many years and learn a general curriculum, and then they go to college and declare a major, and then they go out and look for a job based on their major.

In some ways, that’s a backward process. With a school like B-TECH, you have a major employer such as SAP telling the high school and the college, Here are the jobs that will be available, and here are the skills we look for in employees. And we’re going to be your partner to help you educate students with the knowledge and skills that will serve them throughout their careers. The colleges and high schools can then develop their curriculum around preparing students for those skill sets and specific jobs.

The first students who come out of B-TECH are going to hit the ground running. They’re going to be ready for their future, because they’ll have had this experience in high school and through internships and summer programs and co-ops with SAP. I truly think there’s an exciting future for education in North America. I really hope this model expands, so that every student is able to take advantage of this opportunity.

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