Math Counts

By February 26, 2006General

As even casual blog readers know, all roads lead to manufacturing, since we are the center of the universe. We were reminded of that again yesterday when the blogger-in-chief spent the bulk of the afternoon with the first blog teen (the heiress to the blogger-in-chief’s fortune) at her second MathCounts competition in Fairfax County, Virginia. Didn’t really know what to expect, but discovered a world once again at the root of innovation and manufacturing.

For those of you not familiar with MathCounts, it is a program that promotes math achievement at the middle school level. It was founded by the National Society of Professional Engineers and they remain a big driving force behind this excellent program. It was great to see a few hundred middle schools students competing to be the best in math. The blogger-in-chief had never seen a “Pi Contest” before — it was something to see. The eventual winner was able to rattle off Pi to some 350 digits. When the blogger-in-chief was in school, Pi was 3.1417. Now it’s 3.1415 (deflation?) and — as you are no doubt well aware — non-repeating and never-ending.

Raytheon was a big presence yesterday as well. For their part, they have launched MathMovesU, which is also a great program designed to keep middle school students interested in math. They do it through some great resources — including the use of middle school celebrities like Tony Hawk and Mia Hamm. Their website has a plethora of resources, touting math as central to careers as video game developers, roller coaster designers and robotics engineers. According to various fact sheets on their site, 84% of middle schools students would rather clean their room, eat their vegetables, take out the trash or go to the dentist than do their math homework. Puts it in perspective, no? We are falling behind in math and science ability as a nation, ranking 24th out of 29 in practical math application ability. If this persists, where on earth is our innovation going to come from? By the way, there is also some one million dollars in grant money available from Raytheon for these programs, also on their site.

Last but not least, we’d be remiss if we didn’t note that the payoff in engineering is not only psychic. Thanks to some research from Michaela Platzer at, we have this chart of average starting salaries for engineers. If you just look at the lowest number — the $50,500 for the bachelor level — this would put engineers above about 85% of the workforce in pay. Not bad.

All of this, of course, is why we support the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative, focused as it is on providing the resources and incentives for more math and science education and more federal investment in basic research in the physical sciences.

Congratulations to all the sponsors of today’s event –and the sponsors of MathCounts nationally– and all the participants. This is a critically important program if we are to continue to be the best manufacturers in the world. And those kids? Hopefully coming soon to a manufacturing facility near you.