Summit on Women in Engineering
May 18, 1999
I very much appreciate the invitation to join you today at the Summit on Women in Engineering. It is a great pleasure for me to be here with Sheila Widnall and Rodney Slater - remarkably accomplished individuals who exemplify the strength diversity brings to our Nation.
I know the First Lady regrets she was not able to be with you today. And although I'm a poor second, it's an honor for me to stand in for her. Mrs. Clinton is a very strong supporter of science, engineering, and technology as well as women's issues. Tomorrow, in fact, the First Lady will convene a Millennium meeting on the History and Preservation of Science at the Lowell Observatory.
Mrs. Clinton has featured women and science in several of her Millennium activities. At a recent Millennium evening, she cited Susan B. Anthony's bold vision for the future:
The woman of the 20th century will be the peer of man. In education,
in art and science, in literature, in the home, the church, the state,
everywhere she will be his acknowledged equal. The 20th century will
see man and woman working together to make the world better for their having
lived. All hail to the 20th century.
In many ways, this country is moving in the direction of realizing Anthony's vision, due to the continuing efforts of people like yourselves. The National Science Foundation reported some positive news last week in its 1998 report on Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering:
· The number of women and minorities enrolled and earning undergraduate
science and engineering degrees continues to increase.
· Between 1982 and 1994, the percentage of black, Hispanic, and American Indian students taking basic and advanced math courses doubled.
· And the gender gap in K-12 mathematics achievement has, for the most part, disappeared.
But you have come together this week because much work remains to be done in science and engineering, as well as other areas, if we hope to see true equality in the 21st century. Not all of the news NSF reported was good: despite the gains, women, minorities, and persons with disabilities remain underrepresented in science and engineering fields.
I think we all are pretty clear about why underrepresentation in science and engineering is a serious problem for our nation. But, let me give you three reasons:
1) careers in science and engineering are immensely rewarding, and all
Americans should have the opportunity to participate - it's what America
is all about;
2) having scientists and engineers with diverse backgrounds, interests, cultures assures better scientific and technological results and the best uses of those results; and
3) we simply need people with the best minds and skills, and many of those are women, many are persons with disabilities, many are black, Latino, Native Americans, Asians, persons of all ethnic groups and nationalities.
Through this Summit, you have addressed yourselves to one of the greatest challenges facing this nation. I hope you will share with me and others in the Administration what you have learned in this conference, and what you will learn as you carry out the action plans proposed today. We will be most successful if we work together to increase participation of women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in the science, engineering, and technology workforce of the future.
President Clinton and Vice President Gore want every American to have the chance to reach his or her dreams. Education and training are the pillars of that commitment. They have asked me to advise them on what actions the Federal government should take to build a workforce for the global economy that reflects our great diversity. Such a workforce must include the finest scientists and engineers in the world.
For the rest of my time with you today, I would like to discuss some of the actions the Administration has taken - through the National Science and Technology Council and through individual agencies - to help create the science, engineering, and technology workforce of the future.
I want to take a few minutes to describe some innovative programs in K-12 education. I will spend most of my time, though, previewing the likely recommendations of an interagency working group formed last Fall at President Clinton's direction. He asked for advice on how to achieve greater diversity throughout the U.S. scientific and technical workforce. I want to try out some of our preliminary thinking on you today.
K-12 Math and Science Education
Our first and greatest challenge is to make science accessible to all Americans, especially our children. Our world is increasingly technological. Science, mathematics, engineering, and technology surround us in the classroom, the home, the boardroom, and in manufacturing, services, and the entertainment world. Prosperity in the 21st century hinges on how we handle this knowledge and technology and on what we do now to develop scientific and technical talent in our youth.
We have a long way to go. Science and technology may be always with us, but in many ways our era still resembles the situation in the 1950s, which compelled Rachel Carson to write:
We assume that knowledge of science is the prerogative of only a small number of human beings, isolated and priest like in their laboratories. This is not true. The materials of science are the materials of life itself. Science is part of the reality of living; it is the what, the how, and the why of everything in our experience.
All kids start out wanting to know "the what, how, and why" about their world. It is up to us - as parents, teachers, and citizens - to sustain that curiosity and the joy of science and math throughout their school years. I am sure you are already familiar with the major programs in the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation, where the focus typically has been on broad-based reform. Today I want to review two relatively new efforts - the first a remarkable new partnership between NSF, Education, and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to conduct large scale education research; the second a new initiative by a relative newcomer - the Department of Commerce - to the K-12 education effort.
Interagency Education Research Initiative
The NSF/Education/NICHD partnership started with the recognition that advances in education and student learning depend in no small part on rigorous and sustained research. Indeed, state and local policymakers, as well as school level administrators, are clamoring for information about "what works" to guide their decisions. Historically, investments in educational research have been . . . insubstantial. President Clinton's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology - PCAST - pointed out in 1997 that we spend more than $300 billion on K-12 public education each year, but we spend less than 0.1 percent of that amount on examination and improvement of educational practice. That's far less than what it ought to be by comparison with most any sector of industry, and PCAST recommended significant increases to fund a large scale research program on education in general and educational technology in particular.
In response, the Federal government launched the Interagency Education Research Initiative (IERI). This year the IERI will emphasize three key research areas:
· school readiness;
· learning core subjects, including math and science, in the early grades; and
· teacher training.
We expect the IERI to tell us what works in K-12 education and how to make it work in diverse settings.
K-12 Math, Science, and Technology Teacher Recruitment
Teacher training has long been a priority for NSF and Department of Education, and their ongoing and new programs are vitally important. Today, however, I want to highlight a new effort by a relatively new player in this area of growing interest - the Commerce Department's National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST). NIST and OSTP have joined forces to address the imminent math and science teacher shortage.
We have started a pilot program that partners school boards with local businesses to recruit and hire math, science, and technology teachers and provide them with a year-long salary for at least four years. Business leaders will guarantee summer employment for the teachers and support development of teaching methods that incorporate real-world experience.
The partnership builds a network for transferring knowledge from classroom to workplace and back again. We anticipate several benefits from this initiative:
· Kids get better math and science teachers.
· Graduates have a better chance of securing jobs in their communities.
· Companies have a better chance of getting workers with the skills they need.
· And teachers get more money.
Bringing NIST into our efforts to improve K-12 education injected new ideas and perspectives on this issue - the very result we hope for by increasing diversity throughout science, engineering, and technology.
Next Steps for the Federal Government
The Federal government's interest in science and math education does not end when children graduate from high school. We take an interest in the science, engineering, and technology pipeline from beginning to end. Many Federal agencies have made major commitments to encouraging students, including women and minorities, to choose careers in science, engineering, and technology. But it hasn't been enough. Margaret Mead said in 1949 that:
We need every human gift and cannot afford to neglect any gift because of artificial barriers of sex or race or class or national origin.
The Nation - not just the federal government, but all sectors of the economy - must take that statement to heart before we are through.
So where are the other sectors of the economy on this issue? In 1998, my office held a dialogue for President Clinton's Initiative on Race. We convened representatives from government, industry, and academia to discuss meeting America's needs for the science and technology challenges of the 21st century. Some very thoughtful observations and some models for action emerged from that discussion. I took particular note of the comments of Cathleen Barton, director of Partnering for Workforce Development Programs at SEMATECH/Intel Corporation. She said, very succinctly, that education for all is a business, economic, and workforce development imperative. She described SEMATECH's decision to sponsor a program that would address the projected shortage of skilled operators and manufacturing and equipment technicians, focusing on the community and technical colleges as primary suppliers. From June 1997 to September 1997, the SEMATECH program:
· Increased the number of colleges offering semiconductor manufacturing programs by 50 percent.
· And increased enrollment in semiconductor manufacturing programs by 110 percent.
We need more success stories like that. I believe the Administration should engage in a national dialogue with private industry, academia, and local government and community leaders to identify the barriers that inhibit the full participation of women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in the nation's science, engineering, and technology workforce. We can work with the private sector to overcome those barriers by ensuring that all companies that are directly dependent on the science, engineering, and technology workforce know about "best practices" that lead to increased participation of the affected groups. The Interagency Working Group convened last Fall at the President's direction is hard at work on building this national dialogue.
I expect the working group to make a number of recommendations for the President's action. It is likely we can do more, for instance, to facilitate key transition points in education. We have some excellent models of success to build on. A great example is the Bridges Program at the National Institutes of Health, which helps students at two-year community colleges make the transition to four-year colleges, and students in master's degree programs to make the transition to doctoral programs. NSF's Advanced Technology Education Program and Alliances for Minority Participation both quite successful may also be transferable to other agencies.
We may also try to enhance support for undergraduate and graduate education. Ideally this support would include general financial aid as well as outreach and recruitment, mentoring programs, counseling and academic support, internships, and other practical training experiences. NSF and NIH, as well as NASA, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior, EPA, and other research and development agencies, have well-grounded programs ripe for expansion.
I particularly want to encourage agencies to think about diversity as a part of everything they do, not just special programs. The Department of Energy has done this with its contracting process for the national laboratories - with great success at Los Alamos. And NSF recently adopted new merit review criteria, which are used to identify and fund the most meritorious research proposals. One of the new criteria addresses societal impacts, including human resource development and contributions to increased diversity. We have a long way to go before all agencies think this way all the time.
We hope that our national dialogue with industry will encourage businesses to support undergraduate and graduate education, perhaps through privately administered funds devoted to awarding undergraduate and graduate science and engineering scholarships to women, minorities, and persons with disabilities. Companies - and Federal agencies and contractors - should also be encouraged to form partnerships with community colleges near their operations sites to provide students with skills needed by them. The Los Alamos partnership with community colleges in New Mexico is a model for action in this area.
Last, but never least, we should conduct additional research. The federal government should take the lead in fully understanding the dimensions of the science, engineering, and technology human resources challenge. Research areas should include the demographics of the science, engineering, and technology workforce, the value of diversity in Science and Engineering research as well as applications of technology, and barriers to participation in the science, engineering, and technology workforce.
To conclude my remarks, I want to cite President Clinton, who said:
First, science and its benefits must be delivered toward making life better for all Americans - never just a privileged few. . . . Science must not create a new line of separation between the haves and the have-nots, those with and those without the tools and understanding to learn and use technology. . . . Science can serve the values and interests of all Americans, but only if all Americans are given a chance to participate in science.
I agree with the President, and we are taking his admonition to open science, engineering, and technology careers to all Americans seriously. But at the same time, we must remain an open society - a society that welcomes immigrants and visitors from foreign lands - if we are to succeed at anything . . . especially science. I want to quote one more brilliant woman, Pearl Buck, who said:
Exclusion is always dangerous. Inclusion is the only safety if we are to have a peaceful world.
No matter how successful we are in recruiting Americans into the science, engineering, and technology workforce, there has always been and must always be a place for foreign workers if we are to remain the world's leader in this enterprise. I believe this view is widely shared, and I hope that cooler heads will ultimately prevail on Capitol Hill and we will go no further down the path of exclusion.
I want to close by repeating what I said at the outset about the reasons under-representation in science and engineering of women, minorities and persons with disabilities is so important to our nation's future.
· Everyone deserves a chance to become a scientist or an engineer - they are, without question, the most exciting and fulfilling careers available.
· Science and engineering are vitally important to this nation's future, and we need all the best minds concentrated on advancing our knowledge and skills in those areas.
· Homogeneity makes us stale - we need diverse backgrounds and perspectives to keep our lead in the Age of Innovation.
Please work with me - with all of us in the White House and Federal
agencies - to put the face of America on science and engineering.
It will make for a better America, and for a better world.