Case Western Reserve University President Barbara R. Snyder has been elected vice chair of the Business-Higher Education Forum (BHEF), the nation’s oldest organization dedicated to addressing the country’s most pressing academic and workforce challenges.

“I am honored to have this opportunity to work with leaders committed to collaboration to advance academic programs and economic prosperity,” President Snyder said. “BHEF’s unique combination of members provides a diversity of perspectives, experiences and insights vital to developing solutions that make measurable, meaningful progress on such critical challenges as college access and the engagement of students in STEM-related fields.”

The coalition includes more than 50 presidents and chief executives of academic institutions and Fortune 500 companies. Board leadership alternates annually between a representative from business and one from higher education. The chair for 2012-13 is Wes Bush, chairman, CEO and president of Northrop Grumman. Snyder’s election as vice chair this year means she will serve as chair in 2013-14. Previous chairs include William “Brit” Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland; Edward B. Rust Jr., chairman of the board and CEO of State Farm Mutual; David J. Skorton, president of Cornell University; William H. Swanson, chairman and CEO of Raytheon; and Mark S. Wrighton, chancellor, Washington University in St. Louis.

BHEF works to enhance the alignment of education efforts with the needs of America’s workforce through regional initiatives and national research and advocacy. Place-based efforts can provide information and insight about how to attract students into areas of greatest job demand and, in turn, provide them the knowledge and skills required for such fields as science, technology, engineering, and math—also known as STEM disciplines. Business leaders can provide perspective regarding existing and looming needs, and also those academic efforts through partnerships with universities that have expertise in relevant areas.

Earlier this month, BHEF’s leaders announced a dozen regional partnerships between institutions of higher education and industry that address recommendations made by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). By focusing on strengthening the STEM undergraduate experiences specifically during the first two years of college, BHEF and its members aim to increase dramatically the number of STEM graduates, while teaching them the critical 21st century skills they will need upon entry to the workforce.

Brian Fitzgerald, CEO of BHEF, remarked: “These regional projects are models of industry and higher education collaboration to promote education innovation to address our nation’s STEM workforce challenges, exemplified by Case Western Reserve’s leadership in launching two projects in Ohio focusing on the under-represented minority students, and the development of new models for retaining STEM students during their first year of college. As BHEF’s vice chair, we are fortunate to have President Snyder’s energy and visionary leadership as we launch this critical effort to resolve the challenges facing America’s workforce.”

The forum highlighted two proposals for partnerships that faculty at Case Western Reserve are developing with area organizations. One aims to engage students considering careers in materials engineering through a course that includes extensive hands-on problem-solving and potential opportunities for internships and co-operative experiences at a local company. The other focuses on identifying promising community college students interested in earning bachelor’s degrees in computer science; it also may offer learning opportunities through another Northeast Ohio corporation.

“Our early conversations with faculty and local businesses have spurred great creativity and enthusiasm,” President Snyder said. “We look forward to seeing how these two proposals unfold—as well as several others that we hope will follow.”