For the past nine years, Robinson has volunteered his time as a featured speaker at SMUís Visioneering Event, an engineering awareness program.
Torrence H. Robinson's parents, who were career educators, instilled in him a deep value for education and a respect for those who work in it. He grew up admiring their selfless devotion to student learning. That, coupled with Robinson's natural affinity for math, sparked a passion for advancing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education awareness, interest and achievement.
When he came to TI almost 15 years ago, Robinson got involved in the company's university programs, first in TI's digital signal processing business based in Stafford, Texas. Later, he moved to the Dallas headquarters where he leads the company's K-12 education initiatives and advises the TI Foundation on its education investments. By supporting TI's and the TI Foundation's focus on producing more high quality STEM teachers, Robinson is also helping achieve his own commitment to building tomorrow's workforce through education.
"I believe success in STEM disciplines is key to fueling our innovation economy and helping equip the broader citizenry to solve, understand and support the STEM-based issues of our time, such as alternative energy sources, medical electronics and the innovative products and services that sustain our societies," Robinson said.
To help increase the number of high school graduates who are capable of advanced math and science, Robinson's efforts range from helping create an engineering program that has been adopted in schools around the country, to starting a teacher recognition program and professional development academy.
Improving STEM curriculum
Almost 10 years ago, Robinson co-founded The Infinity Project, a nationally-recognized initiative that delivers a math- and science-based engineering curriculum, along with Dr. Geoffrey Orsak, Dean of Southern Methodist University's (SMU) Lyle School of Engineering. Infinity is among the first such programs in the country to help school districts incorporate state-of-the art engineering and advanced technology into high school and middle school classrooms.
Today, more than 350 middle school, high school and colleges in 37 states utilize the curriculum and over 560 instructors have been trained to implement engineering education in the classroom. More than 5,000 students have been impacted by the program and 83 percent of them say they are "considering engineering as a career" Ė 40 times higher than the typical 2 percent.
To further engage students' interest in engineering and address the issues related to the shortfall in technical talent, Robinson advocated for state policies so school districts can offer groundbreaking curriculum like Infinity. He led a higher education and industry coalition that successfully petitioned the State Board of Education to include engineering as an option to satisfy graduation requirements. Over an 18-month period, he testified numerous times and was ultimately appointed to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills writing committee, which was charged with proposing a framework by which engineering courses can be defined.
Promoting teacher effectiveness
Robinson advised the TI Foundation board of directors that teachers are key to increasing student achievement. He recommended the Innovations in STEM Awards program, which the board funded starting in 2006. Partnering with the Dallas, Plano and Richardson school districts, the TI Foundation recognizes, rewards and motivates 10 outstanding instructors each year.
Robinson said many experts recognize the critical shortage of qualified math and science teachers:
- The U.S. will need 280,000 additional mathematics and science teachers by 2015, according to the Business-Higher Education Forum.
- Only half of new mathematics and science teachers are still in classrooms five years after starting their careers, according to the National Math and Science Initiative.
- The Education Trust has reported that in high poverty schools, two in five math classes have teachers without a college major or certification in math.
- A recent study, funded by TI and the Texas Business and Education Coalition, projects secondary math and science teachers demand at more than 17,000 statewide, but a supply of around 9,000.
- The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST) reported that about 30 percent of middle and high school science teachers in Texas do not even have a minor in their subject. This percentage is even higher in schools with high populations of low-income students. Only 4 percent of alternatively certified teachers currently have degrees in mathematics, science or engineering.
- TAMEST also reported that 4,000 math and science teachers left Texas classrooms in 2007, costing an estimated $27 million to replace them.
"Retention is one of the key strategies for addressing this crisis," Robinson said. "The STEM awards initiative is one way to help alleviate and bring additional focus to the issue."
The STEM Awards initiative heightened the TI Foundation's attention to the importance of quality teachers, which ultimately led to a broader focus on teacher effectiveness. In early September, the foundation announced its decision to invest $3 million in teacher training.
"I believe education is the primary differentiator in creating options and pathways to success," Robinson said. "There is no question I was influenced by the community of educators that were part of my childhood, and the ability to impact our future generations through programs that enhance student learning is extremely rewarding."