Ted Kaufman - United States Senator for Delaware

Sen. Kaufman's Floor Speech on the Importance of Engineering Education

March 8, 2010

Mr. KAUFMAN. Mr. President, I rise to speak today about the importance of engineering education. As my colleagues know, this is an issue near and dear to my heart.

   I believe we are at a crucial moment for STEM--for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics--that often reminds me of sailing. Whether you have done much sailing or not, we all know that you can construct the perfect sailboat, outfit it with the best sails, man it with the greatest crew, and if the wind is not blowing, you will not move. The wind is blowing for STEM and I believe we must work effectively to capitalize on it now.

   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 want to do what we can to make sure it comes from the United States. This means 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 and other leaders in the engineering community to discuss these issues. I have learned many important things from these conversations. For example, 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.

   To someone of my generation, this is an astounding revelation. Engineers have always been the world's problem solvers. We need to make sure students are aware of that--so they will aspire to take on the challenges we face today.

   I also learned about a challenge occurring on many of our Nation's college campuses. In talking to engineering deans it is clear that the present economic down_turn has exacerbated a problem that has been with us for quite a while--that 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 and to the United States 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 Mike Chajes they have 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 for engineering students on Saturday.

   To figure out how to address these issues and grow the engineers and scientists we need, I again met with a small group of deans in the fall and worked with the American Society of Engineering Education to give them a homework assignment.

   Yes, I turned the tables on them. This time the professors had homework. 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 needs to be done. Several common themes emerged from the surveys.

   To begin, many of these deans said that we need a better way to communicate to parents, teachers, students, and school counselors about what it means to be an engineer. There was a great idea from Maryland about creating a web site on the rock stars of engineering such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Alan Mullaly, and others.

   They 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, they told me that students need better preparation in K-12 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education. For the past 5 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 50 Discovery Learning Academies every year. At these events, students spend several days engaging in hands-on learning activities in robotics, water quality, biomedical engineering, energy, bridges, and more.

   The university also supports Project Lead the Way courses that provide an engaging, hands-on curriculum in STEM education. They support First Robotics teams that inspire young people to be science and technology leaders through team robotics competitions.

   They created a scholarship fund to aid students in pursuing engineering who could not otherwise afford to attend school there. And to bring school administrators and teachers into the effort, Marquette holds a conference to motivate educators to begin STEM-related activities in their schools.

   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 our campuses had the physical space to teach more engineering students, these deans would need additional faculty members and research dollars. I have to tell my colleagues, 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 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 3 years. For the past 2 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 some of our Nation's engineering colleges are doing and I am inspired by their ideas. On our end, I think there are 4 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. That is why 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 Department of Education budget submitted by the administration includes $833 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.

   In addition, I was pleased to join Senator Gillibrand and a number of my other colleagues in introducing legislation last week that will further these initiatives.

   This bill is 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 the National Research Council's ``Engineering in K-12 Education'' report, 77 organizations have voiced their support for the E-squared Innovation Act.

   The third important step the Federal Government can take is to 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. We cannot let that go on. That is ridiculous. African Americans hold only 4.6 percent of bachelor's degrees awarded in engineering, and Hispanics hold only 7.2 percent. How can we move into the 21st century? How can we be the great country we are going to be if we are so underrepresented by women and minorities? We can and must do better.

   Last year, a bipartisan group of 13 Senators joined me in writing the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture to urge greater funding to increase participation of women and underrepresented minorities in rural areas in STEM fields. That is the second thing I talked about for STEM education where there is clear bipartisan support. STEM education is not a partisan issue; it gets bipartisan support. It is important for all of us, and we all agree.

   I am grateful that in response, the Agriculture appropriations bill we enacted last October included $400,000 to fund research and extension grants at land grant universities for women and minorities in STEM fields. This was a small but important step that we can continue to build on from year to year.

   Last, we must continue to support research and development, a challenge that requires significant Federal as well as private investment. In our current economy, it is often hard, especially in this body, to imagine investing more in anything. But as Congress has recognized over the years and what was reinforced in the survey responses I received is funding is the lifeblood of research institutions. To yield more innovation, we need more R&D funding so universities can hire more graduate assistants and faculty, accept more engineering students, and ultimately 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.

   Listen to that. We are all talking about how to generate business activity. For every $1 million of research generated by Utah's research universities, we get back $1.5 million 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, 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 they will help us to invest in our future security and prosperity. This is the target. This is the way to get to long-term economic health.

   I yield the floor.

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