Ted Kaufman - United States Senator for Delaware

KAUFMAN, on Floor, Says America Needs Renewed Emphasis on Engineers and Science to Rebuild the Economy

“Today’s financial system meltdown gives our young people a new opportunity to take a hard look at where they want to spend their lives.”

February 27, 2009


WASHINGTON, DC -- Today's economic crisis has presented American with an opportunity to rethink its committment to engineering, science and innovation, as well as higher education so we can better prepare future generations for the challenges to come, Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-DE) said today. In a speech on the Senate floor, Sen. Kaufman -- the only Senator who holds a degree in engineering -- outlined the need for a cultural shift away from Wall Street careers to innovating and building new industries, businesses and products.

The text of the speech, as prepared for delivery, follows: 

“Mr. President, America’s economy is in crisis.  We can either drown under the weight of the problem, or we can ride the wave of opportunity that it offers.

To do that, we must to put science, engineering and innovation back in their rightful place in our economy. 

If every cloud has a silver lining, this economic crisis can benefit America – IF we use this opportunity to restore our leadership in the world, IF we create new industries, businesses and products. 

As the only Senator holding an engineering degree, I remember when engineering ranked far ahead of business administration as the premier college degree for those who had ambition and the determination to succeed.


After the Soviet Union's 1957 surprise launch of Sputnik 1, American leaders spurred the nation to catch up and improve our committment to science. The Sputnik crisi led to the creation of NASA and other government research agencies, as well as an increase in U.S. government spending on scientific research and higher education.


I was one of the young students who were drawn by “Sputnik” and our leaders’ call to seek an engineering degree.


More recently, though, an inordinately large percentage of America’s best and brightest college students opted instead to take their “quant” skills in math and analysis to Wall Street.  


From what I understand, Mr. President, of all the undergraduate majors in the 2008 class at MIT, 11.4% took jobs in finance.  This is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of our leading engineering schools, sending over 10% of its graduates to Wall Street.


The stark truth is that during the go-go years on Wall Street, America’s engineering and innovation class declined.  And it’s not just that engineers have been choosing finance over traditional engineering careers; fewer students having been choosing to study engineering, period. 


Back in 1986, engineering and engineering technology students earned close to 10 percent of U.S. bachelor’s degrees. Despite attractive starting salaries, often above $50,000 a year, the percentage today is only about 5 percent. Only about 121,000 people earned degrees in engineering in 2007 – and that includes bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees.


Mr. President, today’s financial system meltdown gives our young people a new opportunity to take a hard look at where they want to spend their lives.


And it gives America’s political and education leaders the opportunity to ensure that our educational pipeline is producing students skilled in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. 


According to the U.S. Department of Labor, about 80 percent of the new jobs created in the next 10 years will require these critical “STEM” skills.


While America must remain a leader in finance, it’s clear we need a renewed dedication to leadership in engineering breakthroughs in energy, biotech, biomed and other many other technically based industries.


Here is what we should do right away: 


We need to find more and better ways to marry public policy and engineering.

Many universities have begun to do this, but we also must act on the government level.  Beyond the current economic situation, our nation, and indeed the world, is facing a potential crisis in the supply and demand for clean energy and water.


How these issues are resolved will define our children’s future. These problems require technical solutions, designed by scientists and engineers who also have a basic understanding of cultures, religions, and policy.


We also need to develop programs that allow students to “make a difference.”  


For example, we should create an engineering jobs corps – similar to the Peace Corps or Teach for America – to help channel the young talent emerging from our engineering schools.  The fields of bio-tech and bio-med, energy and environment should attract socially conscious students who want to improve the quality of life.


Mr. President, prior to graduating, engineering students typically must write a final paper addressing a problem to solve.  We should publish those papers and make them available to government and to the business community, with authors’ rights kept secure.


And finally, we need to reach out to women and others who have traditionally been under-represented in engineering. The United States cannot maintain its position as a technological leader nor can we solve the problems we face without the perspectives and participation of all members of our society. 


Mr. President, when I went to college I wanted to be an engineer, in part because 52 years ago the United States was supporting science and engineering on an unprecedented level. America’s competitive spirit helped us meet the challenges of those times.  Thousands of innovations created myriad new opportunities for growth and development.   


We can do this again.


The financial crisis should cause a cultural shift back to the strong foundations of innovation and know-how that have always been the American way.  



And the federal government should again invest strongly in supporting the basic scientific, medical and engineering research that will spur the discovery and innovations to create millions of new jobs and shape a bright American future.  


I yield the floor…”

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