Ted Kaufman - United States Senator for Delaware

Keynote Address at the University of Delaware Engineering Commencement

May 29, 2010

Thank you for that wonderful introduction.  I am happy to be with you today as you celebrate this great achievement.  

First, congratulations to the University of Delaware College of Engineering Class of 2010!  

Congratulations also to your family and friends.

I am honored to be a United States Senator at this time in our history, but even more so to be an engineer-Senator.  

Indeed, I have a mechanical engineering degree and spent several years working here in Delaware at DuPont.

There is no doubt that we are at a critical moment.  

I truly believe that the key to the future of our country and the world rests on our ability to use science, technology, engineering, and math – or 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 the clouds 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.

Everything I know about young people today is that you want to “make a difference” with your lives.  

I am honored to be selected to tell you that − with an engineering degree − you can.

I wanted to be an engineer because, when I entered college, it was considered the most intellectually challenging field for our nation’s best and brightest.  

Nothing against those in business school, but when I was young, business was for people who couldn’t be engineers.

I’ll also admit that I thought an engineering degree was the fastest way to earn enough money to buy a sports car.

Yet, like you, I graduated from college during an economic recession.  It was hard to find a good job.  

Others, no doubt, have faced much greater hardships than me, but those early years left me always a bit more grateful and appreciative of everything I have had in my life.

At the same time, when I graduated, the country was investing heavily in the science and engineering fields.  

It was the Space Race: the age of Sputnik and President Kennedy’s call to land a man on the moon.  

Science and engineering were the “it” fields of that time.

Today, we again find our economy at a turning point.   

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.

Scientists and engineers have the most dynamic and creative minds, though I admit that I’m biased.  

America needs creative ideas and energy – and if you have them, you will get your shot.

This isn’t a time to sit back.  Our country needs you now more than ever.  

As we continue our recovery, we need more and more investment in STEM.  

The days of big booms in housing, consumer products, and finance are over.

The degree you earn here today will make you stand out in the workforce, especially now, when so many of the world’s problems need STEM solutions.

You will develop the innovative technologies that will help our economy recover and promote real job growth.

Businesses and organizations are willing now, more than ever, to listen to new voices with innovative ideas and out-of-the box thinking.  

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.

The National Academy of Engineering has identified fourteen “Grand Challenges” for engineering, including:

providing energy from fusion,

advancing health informatics,

engineering better medicines,

securing cyberspace,

enhancing virtual reality, and

engineering the tools of scientific discovery.

These grand challenges all await engineering solutions, and we are counting on your help to lead this effort.

Thanks to Dean Chajes, the faculty, and the school’s partners, you are the beneficiaries of a great education.

The University of Delaware is leading the way in solving many of these grand engineering challenges.  

UD’s Energy and Environmental Policy Institute offers one of the premiere solar research programs in the country.

The Delaware Biotechnology Institute is helping to establish Delaware as a center of excellence in biotechnology and life sciences.

The Fuel Cell Research Laboratory is designing the future of transportation.

UD’s Carbon Footprint Reduction Project is the largest university-run effort to reduce a school’s carbon footprint in the country.

And UD’s Wind Turbine Energy Production and Research Project, when completed, will produce more than enough wind to power Delaware’s Lewes Campus and research facilities.

The great thing for the University of Delaware is that it is located in a state that is also leading the way in these fields.  

I believe the saying is, “Them that has, gets.”  

That when you’re in a state that promotes and supports engineering and technology education and businesses, more businesses will want to come here.

Fisker Automotive, Bluewater Wind, and WhiteOptics LLC are just three examples of cutting-edge companies setting up shop right here in our state, bringing with them hundreds of high-tech engineering jobs.  

University of Delaware’s very own alternative fuel programs, DuPont’s seaweed-based fuel alternative and solar technology, and W.L. Gore’s fuel cells are at the forefront of their fields.

ILC Dover is developing advanced materials, while Newark’s CMI Electric, a solar panel seller and installer, has a banner on its Web site that says “WE ARE HIRING - APPLY HERE.”  

We need more of those five words, and we will – if we continue to focus our efforts toward technology and innovation.

The engineering degree you are earning today from the University of Delaware will prepare you to tackle the world’s challenges and develop the new technologies that will spur our global economy.

But we must ensure that students across the country have access to quality STEM opportunities.  

Because of this need, I feel it is my duty to encourage my colleagues in Washington to invest in STEM education, just like we’re doing here in Delaware on the state level.  

It is true that we have our partisan problems these days in Washington – that’s a speech for another day.  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.

Earlier this spring, Delaware placed first in the nationwide Department of Education competition, Race to the Top, winning more than $100 million in Recovery Act funding.  

STEM played a major part in Delaware’s successful application, which included the creation of a statewide STEM Education Council that could have representation from UD.

We must also promote policies that encourage women and under-represented minorities to pursue careers in engineering.  

While women earn nearly 60 percent of all bachelor’s degrees, they constitute fewer than 19 percent of bachelor’s degrees awarded in engineering.

African Americans hold fewer than 5 percent of bachelor’s degrees awarded in engineering, and Hispanic Americans hold about 7 percent.

We cannot maintain our innovative preeminence without a diversity of perspectives and participation.  

We can, and must, do better across the nation.

In Delaware we are particularly fortunate to have so many great engineers in leadership positions.  

DuPont Chair of the Board and CEO Ellen Kullman, a native of Wilmington, has championed market-driven science to drive innovation across the company.

W.L. Gore President and CEO Terri Kelly has a mechanical engineering degree from UD and earned her title as President and CEO following a peer-driven selection process.   

DelDOT Secretary Carolann Wicks is a Professional Engineer and UD civil engineering graduate who began her career at DelDOT as an entry-level engineer.  

State Treasurer Velda Jones-Potter is the first African American woman to graduate from the University of Delaware with an engineering degree and has also served as an executive at MBNA and DuPont.  

These individuals – all of whom, I would like to point out, are women – were trained in engineering as undergraduates and are four of Delaware’s most successful leaders.  

Moreover, three of these four women went on to receive master’s degrees in a business field.  

They saw the importance of both technical and business expertise and created a path for themselves that is truly remarkable.

I have to point out as well that President Harker and Dean Chajes understand the importance of investing in engineering and interdisciplinary sciences and they have made it a priority here at UD.  

I am excited to look out at the faces of those who will be tackling these twenty-first century challenges.  

From my experience, and as a fellow engineer, the most important piece of advice I can give you is to consider doing what I did over thirty years ago and apply what you learned in engineering school to a career in public service.

Throughout my life, I have worked in both the private and public sectors.  

The one thing I can say about the years I spent in public service is that I never went home at night wondering if I was doing something meaningful with my life.

In this time of great challenges, we need talented men and women like you to answer the call to serve.  

I hope you will consider taking a few years to explore opportunities in government, non-profits, and other organizations that serve the public good.  

There are many jobs in these areas that are waiting to be filled by smart, hard-working, and dedicated young engineers like you.

Engineers in public service work in laboratories to create new energy technologies.  

They invent new medicines and cures for diseases.  

They design the protective armor worn by our soldiers overseas.  

They devise secure computer programs to protect against cyber threats.  

They plan the infrastructure that stretches from coast to coast, and they even carry us into space.  

You know that careers in government often pay less than the private sector, and that you won’t always make the most money.

Your bonus will be the knowledge that you have answered the call to duty; that your life has surely served a meaningful purpose.  

I can say from personal experience, when those who dedicate their lives to public service retire, you can look back on your career and know, with certainty, that when your country needed you, you gave of yourself.  

You will know that your contribution has been genuine and significant.

Whatever you do, I know that UD Engineering has provided you with the best skills to serve your community, set out on a meaningful course, and help make America prosper.

One of my favorite metaphors comes from sailing.  

Whether you sail or not, you know that you can construct the perfect sailboat, and you can outfit it with the very best sails, fill it with the greatest crew, but, if the wind isn’t blowing, you are not going anywhere.

Right now, engineering is that sailboat.  

The wind is at your back.

Our country needs your help to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.  

This is your moment.  Congratulations and good luck!

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