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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Intellectual Security and the Quiet Crisis

January, 2017

Remarks Made on Addressing Achievement Gaps: Developing High Potential Youth - Goldman Sachs Foundation & ETS Symposium

Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D., President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

There is growing disquiet, throughout every sector of our society, over the ability of the United States to sustain its competitive edge in a global environment.

Other nations have observed the elements which have created our success and, as their economies grow in the global ecosystem, they have ramped up their investments in research and development, and are investing in enhancing their own intellectual capital. This is occurring when there are converging trends which will have major impact on the United States' global leadership.

This is occurring at a time when the United States own investment in research and development has declined by half, as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP), over the past 35 years.

This is happening when opportunities in their home countries and new U.S. immigration policies have slowed the flow, to this country, of international students, scientists, and engineers — who have long been an important source of skilled talent for the U.S. science and engineering research enterprise.

This is occurring when our nation's science and engineering pipeline is no longer sufficient to replace the highly skilled science and engineering professionals who will retire in the next decade.

This is happening as we realize that we have failed to excite and inspire our young people to achieve to the highest levels, as their middling scores on international examinations demonstrate.

This is happening as demographics have shifted so that the "new majority" comprises women and minorities, who account for more than half of the population, but who hold only about a quarter of existing science, engineering, and technology positions.

I have referred to these converging trends as the "Quiet Crisis."

All of these factors are creating growing concern over our own ability to compete effectively. China, as an example, builds about 200 new research centers a year, and enrollment in Chinese colleges has quadrupled to 20 million — most taking so-called "hard" subjects. Chinese universities now produce about 200,000 engineers annually, with Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Hong Kong, and Singapore graduating about 100,000 each. The United States, on the other hand, produces only about 60,000 new engineers each spring.

The convergence of trends and global forces is compelling thought-leaders to take a close look at the elements which have sustained us. The issue is not just about numbers, but about quality — the value proposition. The key element at stake is our national capacity for innovation — a capacity which rests almost entirely upon highly educated science and engineering professionals who are bright, creative, focused, resourceful, flexible — about 5 percent of the U.S. workforce. The public discourse concerns U.S. innovation capacity, global competitiveness, and "intellectual security." Achieving and/or sustaining these elements drives America's need for science and engineering talent. As the issues are commanding national attention, a national dialogue over appropriate, corrective action is beginning.

Perhaps the most compelling example of the criticality of innovation is "energy security." The availability of plentiful, reasonably priced energy is an issue which touches every one of us in this room — every business, every institution, every enterprise, and, of course, every nation. As global energy use continues to climb — and, in the past 35 to 40 years, worldwide energy consumption has nearly doubled — it is expected to double, again, by mid-century. Energy security may, indeed, be one of the biggest global challenges of the 21st century.

I believe we already know that we can no longer merely drill our way to energy security. We will have to innovate our way to energy security. Energy security, to be sure, requires our highest innovative capacities — in fossil fuel extractive technologies, and as we explore hydrogen-based fuel cells, methane hydrates, and alternatives to fossil energy sources such as nuclear power, in which there is a resurgent interest.

Innovation, and the development and exploitation of new technologies require people — bright, talented, inspired, engaged, highly educated people — who, of necessity, must be drawn from the complete talent pool — including from our "new majority."

Since it is a relative handful of individuals who make the breakthrough discoveries and inventions, and even fewer who make leapfrog innovations, we know that we cannot predict from where and from whom the next great ideas will emerge. Which is why innovation demands a virtual cauldron of diverse, smart, focused, disciplined, committed individuals who continually challenge each other.

Which is why the focus of this symposium could not be more appropriate — or more urgent. The programs you support are exactly the kind of initiatives of which we need more — to identify and to select bright, talented young people from underrepresented backgrounds, to help them prepare for college, demanding careers, and future leadership.

For the past four years, I, frequently, have spoken to "the Quiet Crisis" (whose elements I have outlined).

I repeatedly have indicated that we must have a national conversation to develop a national strategy and approach to address the issues, and the national will to make it happen.

That conversation has begun.

It is evidenced by a report, released late last year, by the Council on Competitiveness, deriving from its National Innovation Initiative. That report declared that "innovation will be the single most important factor in determining America's success through the 21st century...", and that ..."over the next quarter century, we must optimize our entire society for innovation..." Not mincing words, the Council's "Call to Action" was subtitled "Innovate or Abdicate."

It is evidenced by a report released four months ago by fifteen of the nation's most prominent corporate chief executive officers — spearheaded by the Business Roundtable, entitled Tapping America's Potential: The Education for Innovation Initiative. The report expressed "deep concern about the United States' ability to sustain scientific and technological superiority through this decade and beyond. To maintain our country's competitiveness in the 21st century, we must cultivate the skilled scientists and engineers needed to create tomorrow's innovations."

The report's goal — printed on the front cover — is to "Double the number of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics graduates in the next ten years," and it asked that the issue be a national priority, supported by national and state investments in research and innovation to strengthen U.S. competitiveness in the worldwide economy.

It is evidenced by concerns voiced by federal agencies with a stake in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce, especially the U.S. Departments of Education, Homeland Security, Commerce, Labor, Energy, and Defense. Last August, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Michael W. Wynne, speaking to the DARPA Systems and Technology Conference — "DARPA Tech" — noted that the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), along with the vast defense industry, must fill vacant STEM positions with top secret "cleared" or "clearable" STEM professionals [i.e. U.S. citizens], and readily acknowledges that it is increasingly difficult to do so. Nearly one in three DoD civilian science STEM employees is eligible to retire. In seven years, nearly 70 percent will be of retirement age. Replacing them is a real challenge.

Further confirmation of defense-related needs is presented in a very recent report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), entitled "Waiting for Sputnik!"

The conversation is evidenced here in your deliberations. Your discussions are particularly important, because in addressing the talent imperative, we cannot ignore the 30 percent of the population represented by ethnic minorities in this country, who, together with women, comprise the "under-represented majority" of the potential future STEM workforce. We cannot do this because meeting the need for engineering and science talent means tapping the complete talent pool — domestically, as well as globally.

In the public discourse on competitiveness and global leadership, every sector — universities, corporations, governments at all levels, nonprofits, and professional organizations — are being asked to examine their traditional premises, and to play fundamentally new, expanded, and collaborative roles.

Universities, of course, play a unique role in educating the next generations of scientists and engineers, drawing domestically, and from abroad. They, also, play a unique role in generating new knowledge and in innovation, and in the exploitation of knowledge and innovation — bringing them to the marketplace.

In this regard, universities, as centers of clusters of innovation, are key to the creation of new, globally competitive enterprises, linked to regional economic development. Because of this, STEM workforce adequacy is inextricably linked with two additional key factors.

The first is funding for basic research (especially in universities). While the U.S. still spends more money than any other nation on research and development, spending for basic research in physics, mathematics, computer sciences and engineering has decreased steadily, as a percent of GDP, since 1970. Overall, U.S. research spending has been stagnant, while other nations are increasing their research capabilities. China, for instance doubled its research spending from 1995 to 2005.

Fiscal Year (FY) 2006 began on October 1, but the FY 2006 federal budget is far from finished, and the prospects for federal research and development (R&D) funding are uncertain. The burgeoning costs of responding to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have delayed the FY 2006 appropriations process, and were expected to cut into domestic spending. But so far, congressional negotiators have treated research and development programs better than many observers had feared, juggling priorities and shifting money from defense to domestic programs to give most research and development (R&D) programs flat funding or modest increases. Research and development (R&D) funding has been unaffected by the unanticipated billions of dollars for disaster relief until now, but the pain may be felt in future weeks, as Congress makes across-the-board cuts to domestic and possibly defense programs, in part to offset the emergency dollars. Other emerging crises such as the need for heating assistance and preparations for pandemic flu also could add to the financial pressures.

One bright spot may be the inclusion of a Senate-approved amendment to the FY 06 Department of Defense (DoD) appropriations bill which would increase the DOD SMART/National Defense Education Program by $10 million, and provide an additional $30 million for university-based competitive research programs in the Army, Navy, and Air Force University Research Initiatives (URIs) and to the DARPA University Research Program in Computer Science and Cybersecurity. This bill is now in conference.

The second key factor is educational excellence. The university enterprise prepares, as it always has, the next generations to sustain and advance human society, to create new knowledge, to propel discovery and innovation — to educate individuals who add value. To meet the demands of a newly global economy where competition for opportunity is more equal across nations than ever before, universities must educate our young people along an innovation continuum, or what we, at Rensselaer, call an entrepreneurial continuum — from grounding in basic concepts to immersion in deep, open-ended problems in research and design, to the exploitation of new ideas through the incubation and venture funding of new and/or existing enterprises.

Today's graduates must have knowledge and skills which plumb disciplines deeply and broadly. From that base, these same talented students must be open to multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary work. They must know how to create opportunity. They must be critical consumers and analyzers of information. They must be able to work, horizontally, in teams. They must have the entrepreneurial skills to take discovery and innovation out of the laboratory and into the marketplace. And, they must be able to lead globally, in new situations, in other cultures, and to understand and to appreciate differences, and how to take advantage of them to reach new levels of achievement.

In other words, our universities must create

  • Individuals with strong analytical skills, who can understand and solve complex problems;
  • Individuals with multicultural understanding, who can operate in a global context; and
  • Individuals with intellectual agility, who can see connections across a broad intellectual milieu.

These are important educational outcomes. If we are to tap the complete talent pool — domestically and globally — we must educate all students for excellence — to become technologically and culturally sophisticated individuals who will function effectively in the global arena, and who can work on behalf of our government, and commercial enterprises, here and abroad.

To do this requires that we meet students where they are, that we begin with basic skills, that we demand high achievement, that we understand all we can about the linkage of cognition and learning, and that we make greater and better use of technology in pedagogy.

People (like you and others) are thinking and talking about these things — nationally.

The results of this new national dialogue are being put forth in recommendations for action. There are two efforts, especially, which I would like to share with you.

An effort I participated in, a few years ago, specifically focused on Building Engineering and Science Talent among under-represented minorities. This public/private effort, entitled BEST, studied best practices nationally over a two year period. BEST found four guiding principles which comprise a successful diversity effort, whether in a university, corporate, or community setting, and I believe they are relevant to all endeavors to increase diversity:

First, a sustained and comprehensive commitment to change, embraced at all levels — from the bottom up, as well as the top down — is likely to bring about enduring change.

Second, integrating diversity into organizational strategy. Creating real change requires framing a compelling business case for diversity, and integrating it into an organization's mission, strategy, operating structure, and culture.

Third, management accountability. Organizations which succeed at diversity programs tie rewards for managers, such as merit pay and bonuses, to their personal achievement of diversity goals.

Fourth — for any successful organization-wide effort, continuous improvement is a critical factor and begins with internal benchmarking to determine what already is working, and what can be improved. I chaired the higher education panel.

BEST derived eight key recommendations in higher education for tapping the complete talent pool — again, many of these same principles apply across the board, in the same way that sustained commitment is needed at every level and widely across the spectrum of societal enterprise:

  1. Institutional Leadership: a commitment to inclusiveness across the campus community;
  2. Targeted recruitment: investing in and executing a feeder system, deriving from K-12 education — and I expect many of the representatives of initiatives present here today would be included among in this category;
  3. Engaged Faculty: Which means developing student talent as a rewarded faculty outcome;
  4. Personal attention: Addressing, through mentoring and tutoring, the learning needs of each student;
  5. Peer Support: Which creates student interaction opportunities which build support across cohorts and build allegiance to institution, discipline, and profession;
  6. Enriched Research Experience: Beyond-the-classroom, hands-on opportunities and summer internships that connect to the worlds of work and learning;
  7. Bridging to the next level: Institutional relationships which help students and faculty to envision pathways to the next milestones and to career development;
  8. Continuous evaluation: Ongoing monitoring of process and outcomes that guide program adjustments to heighten impact.

One overarching BEST recommendation struck me as particularly appropriate. BEST suggests that the federal government create a national-level award program, modeled after the Malcolm Baldrige Award, to reward and encourage innovative practices in building the science and engineering workforce. The Baldrige Award has demonstrated that recognition programs can create powerful incentives for organizational change.

What happens at the collegiate level is predicated on K-12 education, where renewed focus on basic skills, high expectations, advanced subjects, and recognition are important. An examination of the science and math skills of K-12 teachers is important, as well as enhancing the attraction of teaching careers.

Rising Above the Gathering Storm

There has been thought given to these, and other issues. A recent entry (with an action agenda) came in the form of a report commissioned by the Councils of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering, encouraged by bipartisan endorsement from Senators Lamar Alexander and Jeff Bingaman, and the leadership of the U.S. House Committee on Science. The report was developed last summer by a committee of the Academies, comprising 20 leading scientists, university presidents, and other education and corporate CEOs. I had the privilege to serve, as well, on this committee.

Led by Norman R. Augustine, Retired Chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corporation, and a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, the committee identified two key challenges inextricably linked to science and engineering prowess — namely, creating high-quality jobs for Americans, and responding to the nation's need for clean, affordable, reliable, and secure energy.

The report, entitled "Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future," makes four recommendations supported by 20 specific implementation actions. The four recommendations focus on K-12 education, research, higher education, and economic policy. Let me review them, briefly, for you. The report urges

In K-12 Education:

  • Recruiting 10,000 science and math teachers every year by awarding four-year merit-based scholarships, to be paid back through five years of K-12 public school teaching.
  • Strengthening the math and science skills of 250,000 other teachers through extracurricular programs.
  • Creating opportunities and incentives for many more middle school and high school students to take advanced math and science courses.

In Research:

  • Increasing federal investment in long-term basic research by 10 percent a year over the next seven years.
  • Annually providing research grants of $500,000 each, payable over five years, to 200 of America's most outstanding young researchers.
  • Creating a National Coordination Office for Research Infrastructure with $500 million per year over five years, for universities and government laboratories, to catalyze high-risk, high-payoff research; and allowing technical program managers to allocate 8 percent of federal research agency budgets for discretionary spending.
  • Instituting a Presidential Innovation Award to recognize the development of unique scientific and engineering innovations in the national interest.
  • Creating a new Advanced Research Projects Agency in the Energy Department (ARPA-E) to support "creative out-of-the-box transformational energy research that industry by itself cannot or will not support and in which risk may be high, but success would provide dramatic benefits for the nation."

In Higher Education:

  • Increasing the number of US citizens earning science, engineering, and math degrees through 25,000 new, 4-year undergraduate scholarships per year.
  • Increasing the number of U.S. citizens in graduate study in areas of national need with 5,000 new National Science Foundation — administered portable graduate fellowships per year.
  • Granting automatic one-year visa extensions to foreign students in the U.S. who receive doctorates in science, engineering or math.
  • Encouraging continuing education of current, professional scientists and engineers.
  • Reforming the "deemed exports" policy — to enable more free exchange of research ideas with international colleagues, especially those who come to the U.S. to study and/or work.
  • The fourth set of recommendation concerns Incentives for Innovation, and includes actions to enhance intellectual property (IP) protection, new patent systems, and tax credit increases to provide financial incentives for U.S.-based innovation, and providing affordable, domestic broadband access.

These are comprehensive initiatives which would address, in concert, our need to enrich our supply of science and engineering professionals, our need to draw from the complete talent pool, our need to innovate solutions for energy security, and our need to bolster our innovative economy, which leads to new industries and high-level jobs.


Convergences create powerful effects — either for good or for ill. If national discourse leads to a national agenda for action, then, I believe the convergence will be to the good.

But again, our challenge is to educate the entire talent pool, engaging the brightest minds of the young women and ethnic groups who traditionally are underrepresented in science and engineering. If we can engage the complete talent pool to assure our intellectual security, we will assure our national future. The work you are engaged in, at this symposium, is a vital aspect of the larger, national effort. The work you do in your communities and institutions, universities and corporations, speaks loudly to the success of determined effort to change the paradigm where you are, and provides a path for others to follow.

In the context of the dialogue on competitiveness and our national capacity for innovation, we need programs that work, and we need every one of our young people in the cauldron of innovative thinkers.

Almost 50 years ago, the United States was jolted to action by the Soviet launch of Sputnik. That event launched the "space race" which was, in actuality, a defense-based "science race." Many of todayís scientists and engineers were inspired to their careers by Sputnik, their study made possible by special pre-collegiate, science-based curricula, their university educations made possible by federal support, their laboratories supported by research grants.

The urgency today, of national and global, "Energy Security" is the "space race" of this millennium.

But overall, "intellectual security" is at stake.

What we have done before, we can do again. Let us just get on with it.

Source citations are available from the division of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Statistical data contained herein were factually accurate at the time it was delivered. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute assumes no duty to change it to reflect new developments.