RPI President Jackson urges national response to the 'quiet crisis' in science and engineering

08/30/05

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute President Shirley Ann Jackson Urges National Response to the "Quiet Crisis" in the United States Science and Engineering Workforce in Address to the American Chemical Society in Washington, D.C.

Troy, N.Y. Linking the United States' need to meet its energy demands to the emerging gap in the nation's science and engineering workforce, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute President Shirley Ann Jackson urged members of the American Chemical Society (ACS) to join in bringing national focus to this "quiet crisis," which she asserts requires fostering a national plan and a national will to succeed.

Jackson spoke at the 230th national meeting of the ACS in Washington, D.C., at a special presidential symposium celebrating the 10th anniversary of its ACS Scholars Program.

For more than five years, President Jackson has warned of a "quiet crisis" building in the United States, stemming from the emerging gap between the nation's growing need for scientists, engineers, and other technically skilled workers, and its development of them. She notes that, as the generation educated in the 1950s and 1960s prepares to retire, fewer young Americans are pursuing careers in science and engineering and there is a decreasing flow of talent from abroad.

"We ignore the emerging science, engineering, and technology talent gap at our peril," warns Jackson. "Closing the gap will require a national commitment to develop more of the talent of all our citizens, especially the underrepresented majority -- the women, minorities, and persons with disabilities -- who comprise a disproportionately small part of the nation's science, engineering, and technology workforce. Initiatives such as the American Chemical Society's Scholars Program are essential to our success."

The ACS Scholars Program is designed to be a catalyst for African American, Hispanic/Latino, and American Indian students seeking to pursue undergraduate college degrees in chemical sciences and chemical technology.

"Nearly 50 years ago, the shock and surprise of Sputnik made it immediately apparent to national leaders, to the American public, to the private sector, to government policy makers that immediate action was required," President Jackson said in her remarks today at the ACS meeting. "It was a matter of national pride and national security not to lose the space race which, in reality, was a science race. And immediate action in the form of programs to nurture and support an entire generation of scientists and engineers was forthcoming and it worked."

Declaring that "energy security is the space race of this millennium," Jackson said that "We can no longer drill our way to energy security, we must innovate our way to energy security," noting the need to "make the essential link of energy security to innovation, and of innovation to the creation and sustenance of a talented science and engineering workforce."

President Jackson urged ACS members to continue working to (1) build public support for making this endeavor a national priority, (2) motivate students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics with special attention to young women and those in groups currently underrepresented in these fields, (3) build support to upgrade K-12 math and science teaching to foster higher student achievement, (4) reverse declines in federal funding for basic research, and (5) build support for legislative initiatives including the Kennedy-Collins Defense Authorization Bill Amendment (S.1042), which would double funding for the study of science and engineering and increase funds for basic research, along with proposals stemming from the Council on Competitiveness National Innovation Initiative outlined last December.

The ACS Presidential Symposium, titled "The Business Case for Diversity in the Chemical Enterprise," was held at the Renaissance Washington Hotel. In addition to President Jackson's presentation, 18 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute researchers are presenting at the ACS meeting in Washington this week.

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About President Jackson
Jackson, the 18th president of Rensselaer, has held senior leadership positions in government, industry, research, and academe. She is chairman of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Physical Society, and has advisory roles and involvement in other prestigious national organizations. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Executive Committee of the Council on Competitiveness. She serves on the Board of Directors of the New York Stock Exchange, the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution, and is a director of several major corporations.

She was appointed Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), 1995-1999, by U.S. President William J. Clinton. She was a theoretical physicist at the former AT&T Bell Laboratories and a professor of theoretical physics at Rutgers University. President Jackson holds an S.B. in physics and a Ph.D. in theoretical elementary particle physics from M.I.T., and 32 honorary doctoral degrees.

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-- Oscar Wilde