Ted Kaufman - United States Senator for Delaware

Remarks at the Raleigh Grand Challenge Summit 2010 North Carolina State University and Duke University Grand Challenge Meeting

American Innovation and Competitiveness

March 5, 2010

There is no doubt that we are at a critical moment in history.  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 our 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 the next generation of 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.

It isn’t enough to try to win back the jobs we have lost.  To keep pace with our population and to keep the sacred promise to our children and grandchildren, we need to create a new generation of jobs.

As former President Bill Clinton says, in recent years, we were creating jobs in three areas: housing, finance, and the consumer economy – retail.  All three of those have suffered in this economy – all three of those benefited from loose credit and easy money to build up a bubble.

And I’m sorry to say, ladies and gentlemen, that many of those jobs are not going to come back.  We cannot look forward to the day where carpenters were scarce because we built more houses than people could afford to buy.  We do not need a revitalized legion of clever bankers any more than we need another Starbucks one block closer.

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 green jobs.

Many of our smartest investors see this and are betting on clean energy.  John Doerr, who helped fund small startups with names like Amazon and Google, believes it.  Vinod Khosla, who founded Sun Microsystems, believes it.  Companies that have been on the forefront of innovation for more than a century, like General Electric and my home state of Delaware’s homegrown champion, DuPont, believe it.

And ladies and gentlemen, our competitors get it.  Norway is at the cutting edge of carbon capture and storage, and a Japanese automaker has sold more hybrids than anyone else.  Germany has become the world’s leader in installed solar power.

But what really brings home the fierce urgency of developing our green 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 green 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.

And as Professor Vivek Wadhwa tells us, 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 to dominate that market too.  That is why we need to act, and to 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, design these new green energy products and services?’


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.

Because of this need, I feel it is my duty to encourage my colleagues to invest in STEM education as part of our economic recovery efforts.  

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.  It was clear to me from these conversations that the good news was that young people want to “make a difference” with their lives, but the bad news was that they do not see engineering as the way to do that.  

As part of my early effort to determine how to convince more students to move into engineering, my staff conducted 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 twenty-five engineering school deans across the country.

Overwhelmingly, they answered that, among other things, students need better preparation in STEM fields at the K-12 level.  

They said that promoting STEM education for elementary and secondary students is critical to preparing those who may wish to pursue engineering study in college and at the graduate level.  

A central part of our conversation was the importance of taking calculus in high school.  Right now, not enough students are matriculating into college who have the mathematics background they need should to pursue engineering courses.  

Since graduation I have been amused when I read that education can be made fun and relevant.  While I agree with the basic premise, we all know that it is a challenge to make calculus fun.  It is hard work, for most of us, and one of our major challenges is to educate young people to the significant advantages of taking and mastering calculus.

One answer is for high schools to develop career counseling programs in the 9th grade.  I can tell you that at schools where they do this − it works.  Students make the connection between calculus, engineering, and making a difference, and see the path.

Beyond K-12 STEM education, a very different challenge occurs on many of our nation’s college campuses.  In talking to engineering deans it is clear that the present economic downturn 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.  Thirty percent of the nation’s public research universities charge more to undergraduates majoring in engineering than in other fields, which in turn prevents some students from pursuing engineering.  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 over the weekend.

While this is just the sort of investment in engineering we need, it is only a first step.  And, I am here today to talk about what the federal government can do, and is doing, to support STEM.

First, we can build a new generation of engineers through policies that promote STEM education.  I am happy to say that while we have our partisan problems these days in Washington, 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 national level.  

Last week I joined a bipartisan group of senators to 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.  

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 of bachelor’s degrees awarded in engineering, and Hispanic Americans hold only 7.2 percent.  We can, and must, do better.

Last year, another bipartisan group of thirteen senators joined me in going to the Appropriations Committee seeking more 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 last October, includes $400,000 to fund 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 green 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 as well as 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.  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.  

One of my favorite images is involved with sailing.  Whether you sail 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.  

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

The wind is at our back.

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

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