Roles of Industry, Academia, and Government in Addressing Competitiveness Through Education and Technology
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“Are we going to tinker on the edges of a system no longer operative or talk about how to design the supersonic jet of the conceptual economy’s high performance learning enterprise?,” asks Deborah Wince-Smith, throwing down the gauntlet for fellow panelists. She describes our current education system as rooted in the 19th century, and failing to provide students with the tools to participate in a global, “conceptual economy.” Learning must engender innovation -- what Wince-Smith calls “I to the 5th power: the intersection of imagination, insight, ingenuity, invention and impact.”
At Tufts University, says Lawrence Bacow, “We imbed engineering in liberal arts,” generating interaction between arts and sciences students and engineering faculty and students. Among liberal arts students, this fuels both technological literacy and such an interest in engineering that there’s been a trend-reversing net migration from arts and sciences to engineering. “By not isolating arts and science students in an engineering ghetto, we’ve created a more literate engineer,” says Bacow.
Richard Lampman says Hewlett Packard looks to hire “a whole person who needs to be able to interact on a broader basis…who can be an entrepreneur, work in global cross-cultural teams.” For him, the, the principal consideration in education “is how to get students capable of doing more than just solving problems -- that’s table stakes. To go beyond that, they need a lot more.”
To find developers for Microsoft, Rick Rashid travels increasingly to India, China and Europe. He can’t meet the demand in the U.S. “for people who are mentally agile, can solve problems under pressure and can work with other people.” He’s witnessing an enormous drop off in relevant graduates nationwide, with a disproportionate loss of women and minorities. “If you step back broadly and look at engineering, you can be very concerned, but look just at my area, computer science, and it’s reasonable to start thinking about panicking,” says Rashid.
Vernon Ehlers says his role on the panel “is to represent the ignorant people of this country” -- not the children who know they want to be engineers, but the “passionless kids” who don’t get the basic principles of math and science. As someone who grew up in a town of 800 with no early college ambitions, Ehlers understands these kids. He says, “If we’re serious about meeting the manpower needs of the nation, we literally have to start with preschool.” He also advises “teaching teachers to be excited about math and science, so they can convey this to their kids.
Diane Jones didn’t know what a Ph.D. was until college. Getting a science education was a “pretty difficult” path for her, and she learned that her field was elitist. That’s one reason she counsels “looking for talent in new places,” like the community colleges where she’s taught. You’ll find smart kids there, she says, and it’s where to head “if you really want to go after women and minorities.” She also sees engineering, especially IT, as the way up for first generation students in this country.
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