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A Powerful Convergence: Energy Security and Intellectual Security

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

NACME Symposium 2005
Sheraton Premier at Tysons Corner
Vienna, Virginia

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The overarching themes of this conference — the need for engineering talent, the revitalization of secondary and post-secondary curricula, and the need for diversity in the engineering workforce — reflect a convergence of domestic and international forces. . . .forces which, increasingly, command attention from key sectors of our nation. The convergence is generating a public discourse on U.S. innovation capacity, global competitiveness, and "intellectual security." Achieving and/or sustaining these elements drives America's need for engineering talent.

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.

This afternoon, I will examine aspects of these forces, but first, allow me to put the converging factors into context, and to do that, I begin with a premise: the premise that energy security is paramount for innovation, competitiveness, and ultimately national security.

If the United States were to achieve true energy security, it would substantially shift the paradigm of our national security, and global security, as well. Why?

Energy security is, perhaps, one of the greatest global challenges we face. It is energy which enables quality of life and economic development. Energy consumption is growing dramatically nearly everywhere. In the past 35 to 40 years, worldwide energy consumption has nearly doubled, driven by population growth, rising living standards, and the invention of energy-dependent technologies. The most dramatic percentage increases have been in China and the rest of Asia. Electricity use has nearly tripled. If trends continue, global energy consumption will be almost 60 percent higher in 2030 than it is now, and will double by mid-century.

The extraordinary economic growth in many of the world's developing nations, is enabling them to provide their populations with common necessities — food, shelter, clothing, transportation, jobs and education — necessities to which many, before, never had access.

Despite this growth, an estimated 160 million people do not have access to electricity. One sixth of the world's population lacks safe drinking water, half lack adequate sanitation; and, half live on less than $2 per day. A reliable energy supply — especially electricity — is a prerequisite for addressing these needs, and a prerequisite for joining the global economic game. The progress of developing nations, and the human improvement which this represents, is generating energy and environmental challenges worldwide.

With global energy demand rising exponentially, the global quest, by the world's nations, for energy sources is expected to become ever more urgent.

Although coal usage has decreased marginally, consumption of every other major energy source has increased markedly. Fossil fuels dominate the energy scene, and are expected to continue to dominate — accounting for about 85 percent of the increase in demand. Yet, the changing geopolitics of access to fossil sources drive an urgent need to diversify.

This is but a thumbnail sketch of what is a vast, complex, and interconnected challenge. Global and national energy security will demand diversification — a mix of energy sources which will require innovation — innovation in technologies for discovery, extraction, refinement, transportation, and use of fossil energy sources; innovation in energy conservation; and innovation in the development and use of alternative energy sources.

These ideas encapsulate, I believe, what we already know — that we can no longer merely drill our way to energy security, and, as such, they provide a starting point for discussion of the intellectual capital we must have to achieve the necessary innovations.

Among many new technologies undergoing research and development are: hydrogen-based fuel cells, hydrogen as a direct fuel, the extraction and use of methane hydrates, a frozen lattice-like source of fossil fuel, huge amounts of which underlie our oceans and polar permafrost, and new and evolving nuclear technologies due to a resurgent interest in nuclear power in the United States and abroad.

But, the development and exploitation of new technologies requires people.

Of course, it is a relative handful of individuals who make the breakthrough discoveries and inventions, and even fewer who make leapfrog innovations. Because we know that we cannot predict from where and from whom the next great idea will come, innovation demands a virtual cauldron of smart, focused, disciplined, dedicated individuals who continually challenge each other. Such a cauldron must be drawn from the complete talent pool.

For the past four years, I, frequently, have spoken to what I call "the Quiet Crisis." I do not need to elaborate the "Quiet Crisis" for this audience, but merely to summarize its elements:

  • The pending retirements of large numbers of current scientists and engineers,
  • A decline in interest among U.S. students in science, mathematics, engineering and technology (STEM) subjects,
  • Diminishing numbers of international students, scientists, and engineers coming to study and to work in the United States as visa policies have shifted, and as opportunities are opening to study and work at home or elsewhere.
  • And, the changing U.S. demographics giving us a "new majority" of young women and ethnic minority groups — both underrepresented in the STEM professions.

These trends are converging to create the "gathering storm," which, if ignored, could well undermine our national capacity for innovation, leadership, preeminence.

I repeatedly have indicated that we must have a national conversation to develop a national strategy and approach to address these 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 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. In 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, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) employees is eligible to retire. In seven years, nearly 70 percent of 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!"

It 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 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. 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 will 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 emergencies such as 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.

Our 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 analyzers and consumers 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 our own 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, universities are changing concomitantly — rethinking the undergraduate and graduate experiences, pedagogical approaches, relationships between professor and student, the nature of the classroom and laboratory experience, even the nature of institutional governance. Minimally, this requires a renewed focus on international experience for all undergraduates, a research experience, and living/learning communities. It also requires more attention to how this generation learns, and the melding of what we know of cognition and learning with the use of sophisticated technological tools for pedagogy.

Rising Above the Gathering Storm

The convergence of global forces and national trends, which are reflected in the overarching themes of this conference, and the ensuing national discourse, comprise a clarion call for action.

At their joint meeting last winter, the Councils of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering discussed their concern over the steady weakening of science and technology in the U.S. Then in May, the National Academies received bipartisan requests, from Senators Lamar Alexander and Jeff Bingaman, endorsed by the leadership of the House Committee on Science, to identify top actions federal policy makers could take so that the U.S. successfully can compete, prosper, and be secure in the 21st century.

With unusual urgency, the National Academies gathered top U.S. science, business, and educational leaders. Led by Norman R. Augustine, Retired Chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corporation, and a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, the committee met over a single summer weekend. The committee began by identifying two key challenges which are inextricably linked to scientific engineering prowess — creating high-quality jobs for Americans, and responding to the nation's need for clean, affordable, reliable, and secure energy.

Gathering data and communicating electronically, committee members completed the report within a matter of weeks — yet adhering to regular National Research Council procedures, including review by 37 experts, customary reference to scientific literature, and consensus committee member views and judgments.

The result is "Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future," which 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 first is termed: Ten Thousand Teachers, Ten Million Minds, and calls for an increase America's talent pool by vastly improving K-12 mathematics and science education. Actions proposed include: recruiting 10,000 teachers annually with competitive 4-year, merit-based scholarships for Bachelor degrees in sciences, engineering, or math with concurrent certification for K-12 science and mathematics teachers, in exchange for 5 years of teaching in K-12 public schools.

It calls for the strengthening of skills for 250,000 current teachers through summer institutes, Master's programs, and AP/IB (Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate) training. It calls for enlarging the pipeline, by creating opportunities and financial incentives for pre-AP/IB and AP/IB science and math courses, statewide specialty high schools, and summer institutes and research opportunities for inquiry-based learning.

The second recommendation is termed: Sowing the Seeds. It calls for sustaining and strengthening the nation's traditional commitment to the long-term basic research which has the potential to be transformational, maintaining the flow of new ideas that fuel the economy, providing security, and enhancing the quality of Life. Proposed actions proposed include increase federal investment in long-term basic research by 10 percent per year over next 7 years for physical sciences, engineering, mathematics, information sciences, and DOD basic research funding. It proposes 200 annual early-career researcher grants of $100,000 each, over 5 years. It proposes a National Coordination Office for Research Infrastructure with $500 million per year over 5 years, for universities and government laboratories, to catalyze high-risk, high-payoff research and technical program managers allocated 8 percent federal research agency budgets for discretionary spending.

For energy innovation, it proposes the creation of ARPA-E, a DARPA-like agency within the U.S. Department of Energy and Presidential Innovation Awards to identify and recognize those who develop unique scientific and engineering innovations in the national interest.

The third recommendation, termed: Best and Brightest proposes making the United States the most attractive setting in which to study, perform research, and commercialize technologic innovation so that we can develop, recruit, and retain the best and the brightest students, scientists, and engineers from within the United States and throughout the world. Actions proposed include increasing the number of US citizens earning science, engineering, and math degrees through 25,000 new, 4-year undergraduate scholarships per year, and increasing U.S. citizens in graduate study in areas of national need with 5,000 new portable graduate fellowships per year.

Actions would encourage continuing education of current scientists and engineers through federal tax credits to employers. To improve the climate for international students and scholars with new PhDs in Science and Engineering, the report proposes less complex procedures for processing visa extensions, work permits, and expedited residency status; preferential immigration to prioritize US citizenship; and increasing H1B visas by 10,000. It also proposes a revision of the "deemed exports" policy to allow access to information and research equipment, except those under national security regulations.

The fourth recommendation concerns Incentives for Innovation. It would ensure that the United States is the premier place in the world to innovate, invest in downstream activities, and create high-paying jobs which are based on innovation by modernizing the patent system, realigning tax policies to encourage innovation, and ensuring affordable broadband access. Actions proposed include: enhancing intellectual property (IP) protection, while allowing sharing of research results with multiple partners. It includes sufficient resources for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It recommends a "first-inventor-to-file" system and administrative review after a patent is granted, shielding research uses of patented inventions from infringement liability, and changing IP laws which impact industries differently.

It also suggests increasing research and Experimentation tax credit from 20 percent to 40 percent of qualifying increase, providing financial incentives for U.S.-based innovation, corporate tax rates, purchase of high tech research and development equipment, capital gains treatment, and long-term innovation investments, and providing affordable broadband access.

Another 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, and arrived at eight key recommendations in higher education for tapping this talent pool. They are still relevant today.

They are:

  1. Institutional Leadership: commitment to inclusiveness across the campus community;
  2. Targeted recruitment: investing in and executing a feeder system, K-12 education;
  3. Engaged Faculty: 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: Student interaction opportunities that build support across cohorts and allegiance to institution, discipline, and profession;
  6. Enriched Research Experience: Beyond-the-classroom hands-on opportunities and summer internships that connect to the world of work;
  7. Bridging to the next level: Institutional relationships that help students and faculty to envision pathways to milestones and career development;
  8. Continuous evaluation: Ongoing monitoring of process and outcomes that guide program adjustments to heighten impact.

All of the reports, which address the "Quiet Crisis," concur that action is needed, and they all point in the same direction — the need to develop and implement a national strategy to ensure our intellectual security, which is the root of our energy security, our national security, and ultimately, global security.

I have spoken to the issues and proposed solutions in terms of convergence — the converging trends of the Quiet Crisis, the converging global trends relating to energy security, and the converging themes of this conference.

The fundamental convergence we need is to have consensus among various parts of our society over strategies to rise above the "Gathering Storm," and to develop a shared commitment to implement a broadly based action plan. This requires national leadership and commitment. Our government should be in a position to partner with industry and university leadership — to have a linked national approach to assuring our intellectual security.

It is clear that, whatever the rallying point, we must do something.

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 "science race." Many of today's scientists and engineers were inspired to careers by Sputnik, their study made possible by federal support, their laboratories supported by research grants.

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

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.

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