Ted Kaufman - United States Senator for Delaware

Kaufman's Speech to the American Society of Engineering Education's 2010 Public Policy Colloquium

February 1, 2010

I am so pleased to be a part of this discussion from both the engineering and public policy perspectives.

I have to tell you, we are at a crucial moment.  You can work on an issue in the shadows for decades, and then suddenly the sun breaks through and it's shining on you − and shining very brightly.  This is one of those moments for STEM.  And we must work effectively to capitalize on it.

Today, America’s engineers have a central role to play in developing the innovative technologies that will help our economy recover and promote real job growth.  In particular, as the global economy turns increasingly competitive, many nations are investing heavily in training their future scientists and engineers. 

We don't know where the next generation of innovation will come from.  That is the nature of innovation.  But we must have an innovation policy, one that helps to generate greater interest in STEM and actually leads to the production of greater numbers of engineers.

A few weeks after I took office, I began meeting with groups of engineering deans, such as yourselves, and other leaders in the engineering community to discuss these issues.  It was clear to me from these conversations that, while all the surveys today say that young people want to “make a difference” with their lives, they do not see engineering as the way to do that.  But engineers have always been the world’s problem solvers.  We need to make students aware of that.

To figure out how to meet this national need, I again met with a small group of ASEE deans in the fall and worked with Bill Kelly to give them a “homework” assignment.  We sent out an informal survey to solicit ideas on how to increase the number of graduates from our engineering schools.  We received some very thoughtful feedback from nearly 25 deans across the country.

These comments provide a very clear picture of what many of you think needs to be done.  Several common themes emerged from the surveys, and I would like to share them with you today. 

To begin, many of you think we need a better way to communicate to parents, teachers, students, and school counselors what it means to be an engineer.  There was a great idea from Maryland about creating a “website on the ‘rock stars of engineering’ like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Alan Mullaly, [and] others.”

You also agreed that green jobs are an excellent way to show young people how engineers make a difference.  I think this comment from New York sums it up best: “Service to the community and the belief in great causes resonates with the millennial generation.  This makes green energy and clean tech the perfect vehicle to entice youth into considering careers in science and engineering.”

Overwhelmingly, you believe that students need better preparation in K-12 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education.  For the past five years, the College of Engineering at Marquette University has been engaged in a range of STEM activities to increase the number of K-12 students who are interested in studying engineering and prepared for college courses in the field. 

Marquette hosts nearly fifty Discovery Learning Academies a year where students spend several days engaging in hands-on learning activities in robotics, water quality, bio-medical engineering, energy, bridges, and more.  They support Project Lead the Way courses and First Robotics teams and hold a conference to motivate educators to begin STEM-related activities in their schools.  They even created a scholarship fund to aid students who would like to pursue engineering but could not otherwise afford to attend school there. 

Marquette’s dean told us, “We have been at this for five years now and over that time, our incoming freshman classes have increased by 46 percent.”  This is great news.

The surveys also told us that, even if you had the physical space to teach more engineering students, you would need additional faculty members and research dollars.  I have to tell you, I am so encouraged by what they are doing in Utah. 

In 2002, Utah’s Governor challenged the higher education community through what they call the “Engineering Initiative,” to double – and then triple – the number of engineers and computer scientists that they graduate.  Each year since, the legislature has allocated funds to support engineering education.  These funds have been matched first by the university, then by corporate donations, and, finally, by the federal government. 

Utah’s governor also prioritized building requests from the college of engineering, while the state legislature started the Utah Science, Technology, and Research (or U-STAR) Initiative.  U-STAR provides salaries and startup packages to hire faculty who are doing research that can find commercial applications. 

Tenure-track faculty members grew by 46 percent since Utah’s Engineering Initiative began.  From 2002 to 2009, engineering research expenditures went from $25 million to $56.9 million. 

The number of engineering degrees granted by the University of Utah rose 76 percent in the past decade, and roughly 80 percent of these undergraduates accept engineering jobs right there in Utah. 

What is more, the College of Engineering spun off 35 companies in the past three years.  For the past two years, the University of Utah as a whole ranked second only to MIT in the number of startups.  These results are just remarkable.

I truly am impressed with the work all of you are doing and inspired by your ideas. And I think there are four things the federal government can do to bolster these efforts:

First, we can help inspire more young people to pursue engineering in the growing green economy.  I am so pleased that President Obama launched the “Educate to Innovate” campaign.  This campaign is a nationwide effort of private companies, universities, foundations, nonprofits, and science and engineering societies working with the federal government to improve student performance and engagement in STEM subjects. 

As part of the “Educate to Innovate” effort, President Obama announced an annual science fair at the White House, so that “scientists and engineers stand side by side with athletes and entertainers as role models.”  I think that is a very powerful message to America’s youth.

Second, we can build a new generation of engineers through policies that promote STEM education.  The fiscal year 2011 budget, released last week, includes a record $477.3 million for STEM education.  This includes funding to improve teaching and learning of STEM subjects, to support STEM projects in the “Investing in Innovation” education program, to create a new STEM initiative to attract undergraduates to STEM fields, and to close the gender gaps in STEM disciplines. 

Senator Gillibrand from New York and I hope to further these initiatives when we introduce the Engineering Education for Innovation Act or the “E-squared” for Innovation Act.  This legislation authorizes the Secretary of Education to award competitive planning and implementation grants to states to integrate engineering education into K-12 instruction and curriculum.  It also funds the research and evaluation of these efforts. 

Based largely on recommendations from the National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council’s Engineering in K-12 Education report, 64 organizations have voiced their support for the “E-squared” for Innovation Act, including ASEE.  

Third, we can promote policies that encourage women and underrepresented minorities to enter engineering.  While women earn 58 percent of all bachelor’s degrees, they constitute only 18.5 percent of bachelor’s degrees awarded in engineering.  African Americans hold only 4.6 percent of bachelor’s degrees awarded in engineering and Hispanics hold only 7.2 percent.  We can, and must, do better.

Last year, a group of thirteen bipartisan Senator’s joined me in sending a letter to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture to express strong support for funding to increase the participation of women and underrepresented minorities from rural areas in STEM fields.  The Agriculture Appropriations bill, which was signed into law in October, includes $400,000 tofund research and extension grants at land grant universities for women and minorities in STEM fields.  This is a small but important first step that we can continue to build on from year to year. 

Last, we must continue to support research and development, a challenge that will require significant federal as well as private investment.  In our current economy, it is often hard to imagine investing more in anything.  But, as I learned from many of your survey responses, more research and development funding is fundamental to your ability to hire more graduate assistants and faculty, and consequently, accept more engineering students and eventually create more jobs.

Utah is a great example of the importance of investing in research and development.  The Bureau of Economic and Business Research estimates that, for every $1 million of research generated by Utah’s research universities, $1.5 million is created in increased business activity. 

Moreover, a forthcoming report from the Science Coalition features 100 companies that can be directly traced to influential research conducted at a university and sponsored by a federal agency.  Examples include Google, Cisco Systems, and SAS. 

I become more encouraged every day that we have growing support for engineering.   Engineers and scientists will foster the research and innovation that continues to lead America on a path to economic recovery and prosperity.  Likewise, these discoveries and innovations will create millions of new jobs and help us to invest in our future security and prosperity. 

I look forward to continuing this conversation and I want you to know that our survey dialogue is just the first step.    Please do not hesitate to come to me with your ideas.  It is that creativity, that systematic effort to reach a goal that distinguishes us engineers.  I encourage those of you who did not yet respond to the survey to do so now.

Thank you all, again, for inviting me to share my thoughts with you today.  As I said: this is just the beginning.

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