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U.S.A.I.D. Higher Education Summit for Global Development

April 30, 2008 - 11:30am

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Remarks as Prepared For Delivery by Secretary Bodman

Thank you Henrietta, for that introduction.  It is a pleasure to be here to talk about education, a subject that is near and dear to my heart.  And I was pleased to see Dr. Bement here.

When it comes to science and science education, we are faced with a remarkable paradox.  On the one hand, the world is more dependent than ever before on science and technological innovation to provide the solutions to the challenges ahead, especially in the energy arena.

At the same time, it seems as though support for basic physical science research and the interest young people are taking in math and science seem to be waning.

According to a recent report from the National Academies, over the last 20 years the number of engineers, mathematicians, physical scientists and geoscientists graduating with bachelor's degrees from U.S. colleges and universities has declined by 18 percent.

Similar trends can be seen elsewhere in the world.

In as much as anything demands our urgent attention, it is this.

We must reignite in young people a sense of excitement about math and basic physical science.  This new enthusiasm may lead them to explore these disciplines, make them an object of study once they reach the university level and, perhaps, lead them to make science their life's work.

This is critical to a prosperous global future.

The International Energy Agency estimates that the total global investment needed for the world to meet the projected demand for energy in the year 2030 is $22 trillion dollars.  Ensuring that investment occurs may be the central energy challenge of our age, even more than others that dominate the front pages of our newspapers and magazines.

And, as we lay the groundwork even now for these investments, we must act in ways that are mindful of our future workforce needs as well - which means we also need to make a substantial investment in education.

The United States is relying on science and technology to point our way to clean, more efficient, sustainable and affordable energy supplies.

This means we must do all we can today to ensure the workforce we need for the future is in the pipeline.  In my judgment, this will require closer cooperation between government, private industry and academia.

In the United States, President Bush has moved to strengthen this relationship through his American Competitiveness Initiative.

The ACI, which calls for a dramatic increase in federal funding for basic physical science research and for math and science education, is a strategic and directed investment in America's future.  It is a major commitment in support of cutting-edge technologies like supercomputing, nanotechnology, advanced nuclear reactor technologies, and fusion energy.

By making a substantial investment in university-level education today, we are making a down payment on our human capital needs of tomorrow.

Success, as I define it, requires us to make a sustained commitment over the long-term.   But, in my judgment, this will not be as arduous a task as it may sound for one simple reason:  We've done it before.

You see, I am a product of what I like to call the Sputnik generation.

I can remember standing in the backyard with my parents at our home in Illinois in 1957, staring up into the nighttime sky trying to pick out a point of light that was Sputnik, the first manmade satellite to orbit the Earth.

The Soviet Union put Sputnik into orbit just twelve years after the end of the Second World War.  And it scared a lot of people in this country.  To the United States, Sputnik flashed across the sky like a great warning beacon, suggesting America was falling behind and that its days were numbered.

But that didn't happen; and it didn't happen because America got busy.

Sputnik's launch was the beginning of a major reassessment of U.S. scientific capabilities that led to the creation of NASA, in 1958, and a massive increase in funding for the National Science Foundation - something Dr. Bement would no doubt like to see happen again.

It was that increase that established the NSF as a major powerhouse of funding for university fellowships in science and engineering.

It was through an NSF fellowship, incidentally, that I was able to earn my doctorate in science from M.I.T. - and I want to note that MIT's President, Susan Hockfield, is here with us today, as is David Skorton, the president of Cornell University, where I did my undergraduate work.

These two institutions, Cornell and M.I.T., and the support of the NSF made it possible for me to become a teacher, a professor of chemical engineering at M.I.T.

It was that experience that helped me develop the skills I needed to be successful in business, as a venture capitalist and as a Chief Executive.  And this ultimately combined in a way that made it possible for me to say "Yes" to President Bush when he asked me to take a leadership role in the development of U.S. science and energy policy.

The parallels between that period and our own are striking.

Today the world faces challenges, especially in the energy arena, that are technologically comparable to those involved in the conquest of space.  As it was then, some of the challenges we face today seem insoluble.

In 1957 it seemed impossible that anyone would put a man on the moon.  But through our determined effort in science the United States put two men on the moon - and brought them home alive and safe - before the end of the next decade.

We need the same kind of investment on a global scale that the United States undertook in the last 50s and early 60s.    In 1956 - the year before Sputnik was launched - the United States graduated almost twice as many bachelors of physics as we did in 2007.

Fewer than 15 percent of U.S. high school graduates have the credentials in math and basic physical science necessary to even start on a university-level engineering degree.  As an engineer myself, this is a sobering thought.

But money alone is not sufficient to meet our needs, here in the United States or around the globe.  Our long-term success depends on our ability to successfully cultivate a few decades' worth of new scientists, engineers, industrial planners and designers and business leaders.

We are depending on them to create the innovations we need and to deploy them effectively into the global marketplace.

And, as we move ahead in our efforts to encourage young people to adopt these disciplines as fields of study, to spur their interest in math and science, we must also act to ensure that colleges and universities around the world are able to keep pace with the technological revolution.

Some of the world's institutions of higher learning are reinventing themselves.  Others are building anew, like the Saudis with their new King Abdullah University of Science and Technology outside of Mecca that I recently visited.

In any event, we must do what we can to help tomorrow's scientists and researchers and engineers receive a first rate education most anywhere in the world.

That means we must now begin a global effort to increase not only the quality of a university education in math and science, but also the opportunity to receive it.  A successful and prosperous global future depends upon it.

Thank you.

Location: Washington, DC

Media contact(s): Megan Barnett, (202) 586-4940

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