Achieving the largest pool of talented students is critical to our national interest.
As the first degree-granting technological university in the English-speaking world, Rensselaer possesses a distinguished history and a unique responsibility.
Since the founding of the Institute in 1824, Rensselaers core mission has been educationwith innovative pedagogy a hallmark. Indeed, Stephen Van Rensselaers vision was of an institute that would exist, in his words, for the purpose of instructing persons, who may choose to apply themselves, in the application of science to the common purposes of life. In this regard, Rensselaer was a groundbreaking institution in the field of engineering education in the 19th century. As early as 1830, a time when apprenticeship was the primary form of engineering education, one of our founders, Amos Eaton, recognized that the discipline belonged in the curriculum of the young school. Eaton initiated a course of lectures in technology, and then, in 1835, Rensselaer was among the first institutions in the country to award a civil engineering degree.
As we carry on this tradition in the 21st century, Rensselaers School of Engineering equips students with problem-formulation and problem-solving tools for lifelong learning and discovery in areas that address our global challenges, including concerns related to national security, the environment, electric power generation, healthcare, communications, transportation, and more.
Because Rensselaer is a recognized leader in engineering education, the Institute also must be a leader in ensuring the preservation and growth of engineering through this century. Our task is formidable. Not long ago, our nation reached a 17-year low in the number of students receiving bachelors degrees in engineering. Yet the need for engineers is great.
Given this situation, it is a troubling fact that of total engineering degrees earned, those earned by minorities represented an increase of less than 1 percent. Although there were a record number of Hispanic graduates, there should have been far more from the fastest-growing segment of the population.
Another fact of concern is that African-American men earning degrees in engineering declined for the third year in a row. In addition, according to the Engineering Workforce Commission, women made up fewer than 21 percent of students enrolled in undergraduate programs.
Statistics from the National Science Board show that graduate enrollment in science and engineering declined steadily from 1992 to 1998. More significant is that only 5 percent are African-American, fewer than 4 percent are Hispanic, and women remained underrepresented at 40 percent in 1997.
What becomes apparent in light of these statistics is that a largely untapped source of potential talent resides in underserved groups of African-Americans, Hispanics, and womenwhat is becoming recognized as the underserved majority. It is here we find the young people who would fill the critical gap.
What will it take to encourage and prepare theseindeed allyoung people to pursue engineering as well as other science and technology fields? We must use three concurrent tactics:
Pre-college intervention programs.
New, innovative ways to secure and retain mathematics and science teachers.
Top-tier academic methods.
These tactics, among other innovations in education policy and practice, are integral to what I call our affirmative opportunityachieving the largest pool possible of talented, motivated students. The imperatives we face now, as a nation, transcend moral obligation. Affirmative opportunity is a matter of enlightened self-interestindeed, it is our national interest.
An effective pre-college intervention program is Project RAISE: Rensselaer Alliance to Increase Student Excellence. Through this program, Rensselaer partners with other universities in the Capital Region to create affirmative opportunities in science and mathematics for young people. The universities involved adopt seventh-grade classes from low-income school districts and work with them to strengthen their science and mathematics skills and to prepare them for college. RAISE currently serves 1,100 students.
Second, we must secure teachers with real-world experience. We must recruit individuals with degrees in mathematics and science, expedite certification, and offer them a contract guaranteeing both teaching positions and summer employment in local corporations with compensation equaling that of industry. Continued exposure to new technological research will inform their classroom teaching, sparking student interest and enthusiasm.
Finally, we must use academic practices such as interactive learning, wired classrooms, multidisciplinary approaches, technology-enabled teams, and real-time work through Internet II on real-world problems.
Through these methods, we can bridge the gap between supply of and the increasing demand for engineers, as well as other science and technological professionals. By educating all young people about the exciting world of engineering, and by tapping into the talents of women and underserved minority groups, we can ensure that we have the engineers we need to lead us into the future.
If our future is to be one of hope for ourselves and for the world, and it must be, we must engage today the responsibility to nurture all of the available talent, and to support basic research and innovation. This is our affirmative opportunity.