Ted Kaufman - United States Senator for Delaware

Remarks to the ASEE Annual Conference

June 16, 2010

Thank you for inviting me to share a few words with you today.  

I am sorry that I could not make it to Louisville to speak to you in person, but I must tell you that I am excited by the work the American Society for Engineering Education is doing.  

ASEE truly is a remarkable organization and I am pleased to have the opportunity to work with you on an issue I believe is critically important to our nation: increasing the number of engineering graduates from the nation’s universities.    

Earlier this week, as hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil continued to pour into the Gulf of Mexico, President Obama spoke about what our fundamental energy approach must look like going forward to reduce our dependence on oil and fossil fuels.

While this is one of the worst environmental disasters in this nation’s history – it’s a chance to both learn from the engineering failures behind this crisis, as well as encourage the development of home-grown alternative energy solutions.  

Solutions that will in turn create a generation of clean energy jobs that will also enhance our national security and environmental health.  

And who will be charged with filling these new clean energy jobs? Engineers.

Young people today talk about wanting to “make a difference” with their lives. While many do not consider engineering the way to do that, to me – this is just the ambition ASEE and others in the engineering education community need to harness.

In particular, the Gulf leak is a daily illustration and teachable moment about how engineers make a difference.  Ideas about how to stop the leak, how to protect the beaches, how to clean the marshes, and how to minimize the environmental damage all involve engineering.  

Millions of young people are watching the Gulf leak every day, and this is a great opportunity to teach them about the importance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM.  

The oil spill has already inspired science lessons across the nation.  

The Office of Science and Technology Policy blog recently highlighted a National Lab Day project that took place in Manhattan.  A local college professor taught high school students how to clean and purify “contaminated” water made of tap water mixed with dirt, flour, salad dressing, and dish soap.  

These students learned first-hand some of the difficulties STEM professionals will face as they work to clean up the Gulf coast.

We are just beginning to see the ramifications of the BP oil spill and engineers will be called on for many years to fix various problems related to this crisis.  

Yet beyond clean energy, the future of “making a difference” will no doubt also involve the development of innovative technologies such as in the fields of health care and global security.

These and other grand challenges all await engineering solutions, and we are counting on your help to educate our next generation of engineers to solve these issues.  

We are counting on you to help show young people how engineers can make a difference and impact the future of our economy and nation.
 
According to a study released this week by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, by 2018, there will be over 500,000 engineering-related job openings.  Eighty percent of these jobs will require at least some college.

Because of this need, we must ensure that students across the country have access to quality STEM opportunities in K-12 education and beyond.  

I will continue to work to encourage my colleagues in Washington to invest in STEM education.  

It is true that we have our partisan problems these days in Washington – that’s a speech for another day.  But there is a bipartisan consensus, however, on promoting STEM education.

This is important because, if we truly are to be successful in building a new generation of engineers, we must support STEM education at the national level.

When I graduated from college, it was the Space Race: the age of Sputnik and President Kennedy’s call to land a man on the moon.  

The country was investing heavily in the science and engineering fields.  They were the “it” fields of that time.

Today, again we find our economy at a turning point where engineers are called upon to meet many challenges, not just those of the BP oil spill.  

With the support of engineers, I am confident we will rise to all of these challenges.

Thank you again.

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