One of South Carolina’s top business leaders warned Tuesday that too many students are not on the path to careers in the modern workforce and said that collaboration among the K-12 system, universities and businesses will be critical moving forward.

Anita Zucker, CEO and chairwoman of The InterTech Group, said technology surrounds everyone and will only continue to grow. She called for a “cradle to career” approach to improving education.

President James P. Clements introduced Anita Zucker as a friend and inspirational leader.

President James P. Clements introduced Anita Zucker as a friend and inspirational leader.

“This task is too great for our school system to address alone,” Zucker said. “What we’re learning is that it’s possible to significantly change educational outcomes by collectively addressing the full range of a child’s needs both in and out of the classroom.”

Zucker spoke to a crowd comprised mostly of engineering deans who were gathered on Kiawah Island for the American Society for Engineering Education’s Engineering Deans Institute conference.

Clemson University President James P. Clements, who introduced Zucker as a great friend and inspirational leader, said her entire family is passionate about making a difference in South Carolina and around the world.

“The reality is that they don’t just talk about it,” he said. “They put those words into actions.”

Zucker, whose family has supported numerous education causes, urged the crowd to embrace change.

“In our business, if we do not change, we stagnate,” she said. “And we change rapidly. We’re nimble. We can change at the drop of a hat. Well, that doesn’t happen in academia. But it needs to. It needs to be able to be sped up, and it’s critical.”

The InterTech Group is a Charleston-based holding company with businesses ranging from aerospace and chemicals to financial services and entertainment.

Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering and Science at Clemson University, said Zucker’s message about partnerships involving the K-12 system and universities was heard “loud and clear.”

“It is part of the dialogue we are having here,” Gramopadhye said. “It is part of the dialogue that ASEE is having nationally.”

Zucker said her company’s roots are firmly embedded in STEM–science, technology, engineering and math– but that arts are also important. One of her projects now is building a “STEAM” school that includes them all.

“To me, the arts bring innovation and creativity,” Zucker said. “That needs to be a part of engineers’ lives.”

The Zucker family has left its mark on higher education institutions in South Carolina and beyond. The family’s endeavors include the:

  • Anita Zucker Center for Excellence in Early Childhood Studies at the University of Florida
  • Zucker Family Graduate Education Center at the Clemson University Restoration Institute
  • Zucker Institute for Aerospace Innovation at the University of South Carolina
  • Institute for Applied Neurosciences at the Medical University of South Carolina

Zucker said that since fall of 2011, she has focused on Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative. Data and metrics are used to drive change to ensure children can meet the academic and occupational demands of the future, she said.

“The responsibility of educating the leaders of tomorrow is one we cannot afford to neglect,” Zucker said.

Zucker said that a comprehensive strategy for workforce development has become more apparent as industries migrate to the region and aerospace and other tech industries expand in South Carolina.

“I think there were nights I couldn’t sleep because of it,” she said “Thousands of well-trained men and women are and will be required to hold positions throughout many industries. In order to ensure that we’re able to produce a motivated and qualified workforce, we must address the need for educational reform.

“It’s imperative that our political leaders, communities and institutions are motivated in collaborating to ensure that we’re able to create the human foundation needed to support the business community.”

Zucker said that while great strides have been made in building a more diverse STEM labor force, the numbers are not moving as quickly as hoped.

“The unfortunate fact is that women fill close to half of all jobs in the United States economy, but they currently hold less than 25 percent of STEM-related jobs,” Zucker said. “The numbers are even more grim for underrepresented groups.”

Zucker called for standards to be revised to guide educators through the process of designing an appropriate curriculum that can evolve as the world changes.

“Educators must incorporate a sense of rigor around the subjects they are teaching,” she said. “They must instill a sense of responsibility to our young people but they must also bring relevance throughout each and every course they are teaching.

“Further training of our guidance counselors and our educators will ensure we’re moving students into STEM programs. Universities must change how we teach our teachers. We really have to do that.

“Operating in isolation is no longer an option– not for our businesses, our schools, nor for our universities or communities.”

“In order to ensure we are successful in moving numbers in the right direction, we must pull our resources together under the guidance of strong leadership in our community. A shared vision and institutional alignment will provide a solid foundation in which to grow and thrive.”