Ted Kaufman - United States Senator for Delaware

Innovation, America and Engineering: NAE Grand Challenges Summit

Source: The Curious Cat Blog

By John Hunter

March 6, 2010

Friday morning in Raleigh, a group of engineers from industry, academia and even government met to discuss the threat of America losing its global lead in innovation. The panel discussion was part of a Summit on the National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenges.

Jeff Wadsworth, CEO and president of Battelle Memorial Institute, noted that high school graduation rates have fallen from about 86 percent in the Baby Boomer generation to about 72 percent today. He compared that to a 96 percent graduation rate in Denmark, 92 percent in Japan and the fact that China graduates three engineering students for every one that we do. It’s not news that international competition is stiffening against us, but the statistics he presented about how the U.S. measures up to foreign countries in K-12 metrics was gut-wrenching.

“Our historic lead in secondary education has disappeared,” Wadsworth said. “And as a leader of a large organization, I worry about education.”

Another panelist, Senator Ted Kaufman (D-Delaware) said the country was at a critical point in history. “We are in an economic war,” he said. “The future of our country rests on our ability to use STEM to solve problems.” Kauffman is the only sitting senator in Congress to have worked in the engineering field, and he repeatedly drummed out a message that policy could drive a solution to the STEM crisis.

A third panelist – John Chambers, chairman and CEO of CISCO – said he believed changing teaching methods in K-12 settings to be more collaborative, projects-oriented and skills-mastery oriented would be a good starting point.

The deans of the engineering colleges at both Duke and NC State universities announced today a new nationwide program targeting attracting school-aged children to the STEM fields. The Grand Challenge K-12 Partners Program will lean on engineering colleges throughout the U.S. to be resource hubs for K-12 students and teachers in their region.

Three more NAE Grand Challenge Summits are scheduled to take place next month, in Phoenix, Chicago and Boston. A fourth is scheduled for Seattle in May.

The importance of innovation and engineering education to long term economic success is one thing I believe strongly in and have written about here: Engineering Economic Benefits, Techonolgy Innovation Global Economy Changing, Centers of Technical Excellence and Economic Power. And is one reason I work for the American Society of Engineering Education (this blog is my own and not associated with ASEE).

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