The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

79° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    The engineering edge

    Matt Stonecolumnist
    Matt Stone
    columnist

    Who was Accellent looking for at this past week’s career fair? Industrial, chemical and mechanical engineering majors. A biomedical concentration wouldn’t hurt either.

    Newmont? Metallurgical engineering, mining engineering, geology and earth sciences. Infosys? Computer engineering. Lockheed Martin? Mechanical engineering.

    Last week’s career fair was awfully reflective of today’s global economy and what America must do to stay competitive. What America is apparently not doing is graduating enough engineering majors. Nearly half the companies represented at the career fair were seeking out talented engineers and offering salaries commensurate with not only their skills, but also their relative scarcity in America today.

    Every year China and India graduate a combined 650,000 engineers. America graduates a paltry 55,000 and that figure has been dropping for the past 20 years. As technological barriers to moving information instantaneously across oceans drop, more and more companies will set up shop where the best engineers are. And increasingly, the best engineers are found across the Pacific. Some experts estimate that by 2010, 90 percent of all engineers in the world will live in Asia.

    Demographics are largely to blame. The engineers who joined the American work force

    Understanding 19th-century British literature is great, but understanding semiconductor design is more in line with America’s national interest.

    following the 1958 launch of Sputnik are now retiring in large numbers. Moreover, of America’s 55,000 engineering graduates per year, a large number of those are foreign nationals who return to their native country upon graduation.

    In the meantime, America is importing approximately 60,000 technologists per year under the H-1B visa program. As James Bagley, chairman of Lam

    Research Corporation, has aptly noted, importing engineers from abroad is, at best, a stop-gap measure. What ultimately needs to be done is increase the number of Americans graduating with engineering degrees.

    Comprehensive solutions will require foresight and patience. There will be no quick fixes.

    For that to happen, public perceptions of the engineering profession need to change. Right now, the jobs romanticized by television most are those of lawyers and doctors. Engineers are painted as socially inept geeks. But those geeks are the key to America retaining its competitive advantage in the world economy.

    Math and science ought to be emphasized more in the public school system. In fact, the entire public schooling system deserves an overhaul, which will require increasing instructors’ accountability. The teachers’ unions must be broken to infuse some vigor in an encrusted, dilapidated system.

    Additionally, America’s current bout of xenophobia must be nipped in the bud. Although the angst over illegal immigration is directed at Hispanic immigrants, the world sees an unwelcoming country with its doors closed. Such xenophobia, while directed at one specific immigrant group, deters other highly qualified legal immigrants from migrating.

    Indeed, the government must streamline the visa process, allowing skilled workers to easily enter, work and live in America. Ours is an immigrant nation after all, and our competitive edge remains America’s attractiveness to foreigners hoping to improve their standard of living through hard work.

    More directly, universities and private foundations ought to expand their scholarship and low-cost loan offerings to students studying engineering, math or science. Understanding 19th-century British literature is great, but understanding semiconductor design is more in line with America’s national interest. Financial incentives should reflect that.

    Some unorthodox solutions are in order as well. Student loans should be forgiven for those engineering, science and math majors who teach for a number of years following graduation. In such a way, a foundation is built for future generations to study these subjects at the highest caliber.

    Globalization is often portrayed as some American-inspired conspiracy to subjugate poorer nations and entrench America’s preponderance in the world system. This simplistic view belies the facts.

    As we are seeing, some nations grasp globalization a lot better than America does: China, India and Singapore immediately come to mind. America needs to recognize that globalization is about competition between nations, and right now, we’re being out-competed by Asian nations.

    Reemphasizing the importance of engineering, math and science for our economy would be a good first step to renewing our economic vigor.

    Matt Stone is a senior majoring in international studies and economics who would add an engineering major if he could do college again. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu

    More to Discover
    Activate Search