Ted Kaufman - United States Senator for Delaware

Sen. Kaufman, on Floor, Praises Serve America Act

March 24, 2009

Mr. President, I would like to begin by thanking my distinguished colleague, Senator MIKULSKI, for her effective leadership steering this bill through the HELP Committee while gaining bipartisan support.

   The strong support this bill enjoys is not surprising given her stewardship and, of course, the hard work of Senator KENNEDY who brought us to this point.

   I would also like to thank Senators HATCH and ENZI for their work on this bill.

   When we work together across the aisle, the end result is a better bill and good governance.

   I can think of no bill that better represents the values of America than the Serve America Act.

   It will expand the opportunities for Americans to serve their communities and their Nation.

   It makes me--and I think all of us here proud that each year over 60 million Americans volunteer, donating over 8 billion hours of their own time, their own lives--to make our country--and the world--a better place.

   We are in a time of crisis. Right now, our country needs those volunteers at our schools, hospitals, and shelters more than ever. Nonprofits are doing all that they can to help those who have lost their jobs, their houses, their savings, their retirement.

   This bill recognizes the need to reinforce and strengthen this system in a number of ways.

   I recently spoke here in the Senate about the need for our country to reset its focus on how best to change the culture of our economy away from a Wall Street profit-first mentality to one that prioritizes jobs and careers that will help our Nation tackle the challenges it currently faces.

   I believe that the vitality of our economy rests with our ability to be the world's leader in innovation, and I believe this means that we must do more to attract the best and the brightest to careers in science and engineering.

   Those who have dedicated themselves to these fields have much to contribute beyond making our economy competitive; they also contribute to our communities' well-being.

   This bill, I am proud to say, recognizes the important role that engineers can play in bettering our communities.

   I would like to commend the HELP Committee for expanding the purpose of the bill to include providing service opportunities for our Nation's retiring professionals, including those retiring from the science, technical, engineering, and mathematics professions--also known as ``STEM'' jobs.

   Not only will this allow us to tap the unique skills and knowledge of our retired STEM workforce, but it will allow us to strengthen the STEM education pipeline.

   This bill will send retired engineers into communities, classrooms, and after school programs, allowing them to share their wisdom and experience with students.

   Ultimately, they will help these young people understand not only the important role that science and math can play in their careers, but how they can use their expertise in those fields to solve our country's--and the world's--greatest challenges.

   This bill also acknowledges that innovative, community-based service- learning programs that integrate STEM are a successful strategy to engage middle- and high-school students in meaningful hands-on learning opportunities that also help them meet their community's needs.

   It specifically allows funds to be used to integrate service-learning programs into STEM curricula at the elementary, secondary, and postsecondary schools levels and then draw on practicing or retired STEM professionals to work in these programs.

   In this case, electrical engineers might participate in a program that helps students apply lessons from their math and science classes to expand and improve broadband access in rural communities.

   Linking the classroom to real-world applications will help students better understand the role and responsibilities of engineers and scientists in the workplace.

   The third way that this bill draws on the expertise and knowledge of engineers is that it allows ``Professional Corps'' programs to be created. These ``Professional Corps'' programs will recruit and place qualified professionals, like engineers, in communities that don't have an adequate supply of these professionals.

   For example, an employer would sponsor an individual and pay their salary to be placed in an organization that works with the community to conduct green energy audits of local public buildings or homes in disadvantaged communities.

   This would not only reduce a community's carbon footprint; it would also help improve public awareness of engineering's critical role in solving our Nation's greatest challenges--like energy efficiency and energy dependence.

   We must--once again--capture the attention of our students and let them see the numerous ways that STEM contribute to our economy and can improve the lives of their fellow citizens--in America and abroad.

   Just as I decided to study engineering because I was inspired by ``Sputnik'' and the race to put a man on the Moon, we must inspire our students to work on issues of critical need as well.

   The underrepresentation of so many groups in STEM fields is troubling, since diversity is widely acknowledged to spur innovation and creativity.

   Innovation and creativity in turn spur the development of new products and new markets, which are essential to maintaining a competitive economy.

   Engineers and scientists can have a tremendous impact on the lives of these traditionally underrepresented groups by serving as mentors in their communities.

   This bill will encourage our Nation's scientists and engineers to work in and with economically disadvantaged communities to ensure that these fields include rather than exclude, and encourage rather than discourage, traditionally underrepresented groups from pursuing a STEM education.

   The Serve America Act will help our young people identify those challenges and provide them with real opportunities to make a difference--opportunities like improving energy efficiency, working toward energy independence for America, bolstering disaster preparedness and response, promoting environmental sustainability, strengthening our education and health care infrastructure, and improving opportunities for economically disadvantaged individuals.

   These challenges are daunting, yet I know that if asked, a new generation of engineers and scientists will rise to the occasion.

   I stand in proud support of the Serve America Act, as it will inspire multiple generations to volunteer and to engage in national service.

   Their generosity will not only strengthen America--but the world. I appreciate my colleagues' allowing me the opportunity to explain how the service opportunities this bill creates are also opportunities for our practicing and retired engineers to serve their fellow citizens--ensuring that that our country's future STEM workforce is strong enough, diverse enough, and motivated enough to tackle the greatest challenges facing America.

   I will close by once again thanking Senators MIKULSKI, KENNEDY, HATCH, and ENZI for their leadership.

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