Ted Kaufman - United States Senator for Delaware

Remarks at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers 2010 Engineering Public Policy Symposium

April 20, 2010

There is no doubt that we are at a critical moment.  I am honored to be a United States Senator at this time in our history, but even more so to be an engineer Senator.  I believe the key to the future of our country, and the world, rests on the United States ability to use science, technology, engineering, and math, STEM, to solve the major problems we face.  

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 engineers, in particular for the promotion of STEM education.  

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 tomorrow’s innovation will come from.  That is the nature of innovation.  But we must have an innovation policy, one that helps generate greater interest in STEM and actually leads to the training and graduation of more engineers.

What we do know are the problems we face.  We do know our central economic challenge.  When we get through this crisis, when this recession is passed, we need to create new jobs.

So, where will tomorrow’s jobs come from?

I believe the answer lies in transforming our economy, in revolutionizing how we produce and consume energy.  

You all understand that science is science.  It is not ours to argue with and, on climate change, the science is real and it is urgent.  We need to act.

You know that we cannot afford to continue our dependence on foreign oil, sending our treasure overseas to nations who thwart our goals for a fair, free, and peaceful world.

You see the world changing around us, the way the wind is blowing, and you realize that to remain a world leader we must act now.

So, where will tomorrow’s jobs come from?

They will be clean energy jobs.

Ladies and gentlemen, our clean energy competitors – Norway, Germany, Japan, you name it – they all get it.

    But what really brings home the fierce urgency of developing our clean energy economy is the way I have seen the world’s largest country, China, turn on a dime.

For years, as I traveled to China and witnessed her explosive growth, it was clear that the leadership was reluctant to combat climate change.  Suddenly, that is no longer the case.  Last year China became the world’s biggest manufacturer of wind turbines.  China had already become the leading source of solar panels, and is now working around the clock to expand clean energy technologies — from nuclear power and carbon capture and storage to more efficient lighting and heating.

In President Hu Jintao’s speech at the United Nations last fall, he spoke about reducing China’s “carbon intensity,” explicitly setting out to win the clean energy race.

Moreover, China graduates three engineers for every one of ours.

The Chinese get it.

Today, the Chinese can see that other countries are on the brink of creating a brand new market, a global market for clean energy technologies, and they want to dominate that market.

Well, I want the United States to dominate that market.  That is why we need to act, and act now, to redraw our energy sector and learn to live within our planet’s bounds.

And I think most of you know why I am telling you this.  Who will research, invent, develop, produce, and design these new clean energy products and services?

Engineers.

Engineers have always been the world’s problem solvers, and especially now when so many of the world’s problems need STEM solutions.  Whether it is energy independence, climate change, life-saving cures for diseases, security challenges, or new solutions for transportation, STEM-educated graduates will be at the forefront.

A few weeks after I took office, I began meeting with groups of engineering school deans and other leaders in the engineering community to discuss STEM issues and how best to promote these fields.  

One problem that became clear from these conversations is the additional cost of educating an engineering student, which requires an investment in labs and other costly facilities.  Simply put, most universities make more money on liberal arts students than STEM students.  

We must start educating college and university administrators about the long-term benefits to the university, to the United States, to the world, of spending the additional money required to graduate more engineering students.

Many administrators do get it.  One is Pat Harker, President of the University of Delaware and an engineering graduate from Penn.  Working with his engineering dean Michael Chajes they increased last year’s entering engineering class by 25 percent, but they do not have the lab space to accommodate these students.  They now have to hold lab classes over the weekend.  

But beyond college and graduate school, many STEM students are discovering they are not prepared with the leadership, entrepreneurial, and communication skills they need to translate their discoveries and ideas into innovations.  

We must do a better job of turning our research universities into innovation engines that help these students.  This means training a new generation of engineers in translational research –arming graduates with skills outside the traditional definitions of science and engineering.  It also means connecting students with successful entrepreneurs and encouraging them to work with students in other fields.

In Delaware, four of the most successful engineers in the state also have business backgrounds.  The Delaware Department of Transportation Secretary, the CEOs of both DuPont and W.L. Gore, and the Delaware State Treasurer were all trained in engineering as undergraduates and three of the four went on to receive master’s degrees in a business field.  These individuals – all of whom, I would like to point out, are women − saw the importance of having both technical and business expertise – and each created her own translational research education.  

In our present economy, we must do what we can to ensure more students are offered this type of diversified, collaborative experience, and to encourage more students to choose that path.

There are several things the federal government can do, and is doing, to support STEM.

First, we can build a new generation of engineers through national policies that promote STEM education.  It is true that we have our partisan problems these days in Washington, however, there is a bipartisan consensus that we must move ahead on promoting STEM education.  This is important because, if we truly are to be successful in increasing our nation’s engineering output, we must support STEM education at the federal level.  

In February, I joined a bipartisan group of senators to introduce the Engineering Education for Innovation Act or the “E-squared” for Innovation Act.  This legislation would create competitive planning and implementation grants helping states integrate engineering education into K-12 instruction and curriculum.  

Second, we can promote policies that encourage women and underrepresented minorities to pursue careers in 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 engineering bachelor’s degrees, and Hispanic Americans only 7.2 percent.

Last year, another bipartisan group of thirteen senators joined me in seeking more funding to increase the participation of women and minorities from rural areas in STEM fields.  The Agriculture Appropriations bill, signed into law last October, included $400,000 in 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.  

Third, we can help inspire more young people to pursue engineering in the growing clean energy economy.  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.
    
Finally, we must continue to support research and development, a challenge that will require significant federal and private investment.  In our current economy, it is often hard to imagine investing more in anything.  But more research and development funding is fundamental to high-tech job creation.  

One of my favorite images involves sailing.  Whether you sail or not, we all know that you can construct the perfect sailboat, outfit it with the best sails, fill it with the greatest crew, and, if the wind is not blowing, you will not move.  

Right now STEM education in the United States is that sailboat.

The wind is at our backs.

Let’s all work together on STEM education, for our nation and the world.

Thank you all, for inviting me to share my thoughts with you today.  In addition to using the remainder of our time for the traditional question and answer format, I would also like to hear your ideas and thoughts.

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