Did I ever tell you the story of 21PSTEM and Egypt?


You have often heard me say that sustainable jobs for our citizens will require significant investment from outside the United States. I can tell you that Citizen Diplomacy injects $2.3 million into our local economy each year. I can tell you we support jobs in hotels, transportation, tourism and restaurants. But, a great story is so much better!

So today, let me tell you about The 21st Century Partnership for STEM Education – a true story of how international exchanges create jobs.

One August day in 2011, Joe Merlino, president of 21PSTEM, received a very special call from Citizen Diplomacy.

“We have a delegation coming from Egypt and they want to know about Philadelphia’s math and science specialty schools. Will you meet with them?”

Joe wasn’t sure what to expect. He didn’t even own a passport. But, he agreed to volunteer a few hours of his time. That decision changed his life.

Citizen Diplomacy’s visiting delegates included the Egyptian Minister of Education, who, together with his Deputy Minister and a program officer at USAID-Egypt, had conceived a bold plan to raise a generation of critical thinkers, problem solvers and future leaders. During his week-long exchange, the Minister was impressed with Philadelphia. As he was leaving their last meeting, he whispered to Joe,

“I’ll see you in Cairo.” 

Four months later, Joe found himself in Cairo, meeting with the Egyptian Education Minister to turn their dream of advanced STEM education into their first model school. Eight years later, there are now 15 advanced STEM high schools in Egypt, designed and supported with technical assistance from USAID.

These STEM schools focus on solving Egypt’s Grand Challenges. The students direct their studies trying to solve the biggest problems in their country, conducting scientific experiments in the classroom. Scores of these students have won national and international awards in STEM competitions, just like the young women in this video.

Many of these Egyptian STEM school students have gone on to attend U.S. universities, including universities here in Philadelphia. Joe told me about one bio-mechanical engineering student who, when asked if she intended to return to Egypt, said,

“If I solve the lung cancer problem, then I am helping Egypt – and also many more people around the world.”

Over the past eight years, 21PSTEM has grown into a leader in global education, garnering multi-million dollar grants and employing 18 people in the Philadephia region. 21PSTEM is now the prime organization for a new $24 million project to expand the STEM school system to 27 schools and also work with 5 Egyptian universities and 5 U.S. universities (including Drexel, Temple and Arcadia) to create a totally new four-year undergraduate STEM teacher program. Joe has led more than 80 people to Egypt from Philadelphia and elsewhere around the country. As a result, he was invited to be a senior fellow for UNESCO’s Bureau of International Education, working most recently in Turkey and France.

As a leader with a global mindset, Joe Merlino has made a critical difference to the success of his organization. He earned 21PSTEM millions in grant funding and created important jobs for our region. His work has strengthened Philadelphia’s standing as a leader in global education.

And it all started with one meeting.

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