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Monday, November 21, 2016


The October issue of Scientific American included a Science Agenda column featuring the editors entitled Science is Not Enough.  There is a mindset in the USA that  high school and college students shy away from Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), and we need to do everything possible to strengthen our capability in these fields, for countries like India, and especially China, produce far many more of these graduates than we do. 

There is supposedly a FORTUNE article comparing engineering graduates/year:
  • China 600,000
  • India 350,000
  • USA 70,000
However, that was a decade ago, and follow-up subsequent checking indicated that the numbers were wild exaggerations.

It is true, though, that students from China (328,547) and India (185,918)  dominated our graduate schools last year.  Incredibly, 70.3 % of all full-time graduate students in electrical engineering were foreigners.  At the Illinois Institute of Technology this number was 92.8%.  While foreign enrollment continues too grow, many of them remain in the country:

However, immigration policies will continue to change, especially with Donald Trump as president, so who knows what the future holds.  So we have two issues at play:  number of Americans in STEM majors and influence of foreign students.

In any case, the National Science Foundation reports that:
  • Half of workers in Science and Engineering  (S&E) earned $78,270 plus in 2012, more than double the median earnings ($34,750) of the total U.S. workforce.
  • S&E workers are less often exposed to unemployment, with the former usually half that of the latter.
  • Women are underrepresented in the S&E workforce.
  • Same for minorities.
  • However, with 5% of the population, Asians represent 19% of S&Es.
  • Foreign born individuals account for 25% of the S&E occupations.
Further, most reports indicate that
  • U.S. higher education produces far more S&E graduates annually than there are job openings.
  • The S&E field suffers through boom-bust cycles.  The booms (always followed by busts) were:
    • Following World War II.
    • After Sputnik was launched in 1957.
    • The Reagan defense buildup and alarming Federal reports such as A Nation at Risk in 1983.
    • Mid-90's rise of high tech.
    • Doubling of the National Institutes of Health budget from 1998 to 2003.
During that time of distorted fear around 2005 of China and India overcoming the USA, other studies showed that our K-12 students were underperforming most countries of the world, or, at best, were merely average.  The result a decade ago was a sudden emphasis on STEM education.  As those editors at Scientific American think not, I agree with them.

I was planning for this to be a very short posting, but the more I continue, I feel compelled to go back to my education chapter in SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity, for the basic theme was that while STEM education was important, there were more important life learning lessons schools should also be emphasizing.  So I quote:

Furthermore, I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: through the first 18 years of our life, education teaches us, mostly, to look out for ourself. The educational system provides rewards only for grades, graduating and getting into the college  or job of your choice. Sure, there will be team projects, but these you will manage to get by with minimal effort without incurring the animosity of members. The academically gifted, especially, will prioritize their studies, for what better way is there to attain your goals? Some will nevertheless become class officers, newspaper reporters, whatever. The less driven will turn to sports and extracurricular activities. This latter group could well become more successful in life, but chances are, if you do both--study hard and balance your life with team sports and social pursuits--you will be even more prosperous.

Let’s follow a typical child from K-12, with some going on to college. You toil in school, year after year, take tests, study, play, then, finally, one day, find yourself, hooray, most of you, anyway, a graduate, whether with a high school degree or PhD. You enter society, get a job and continue doing what you always did. You keep looking out for #1, you, as that is all you know.

You don’t realize that it is not how successful you are in what you personally do, but, more, how people around you flourish. Success is attained not by hogging the limelight or taking credit for everything that happens. In fact, just the opposite happens. You alienate yourself from your colleagues and wonder what went wrong. You haven’t yet learned that it is in how well you sacrifice, sell and give credit that work best. Of course, many of us eventually learn the true game, some faster than others, but many not at all. 

So we have this sub-optimal educational system where we score worse than most developed nations, end up working with the wrong attitude and where teachers, employees and parents are not very happy. Yet, we are doing quite well economically and continue to be, by far, the most powerful nation, ever. How come? What went right?

Maybe the 3 R’s are not that important, after all. Maybe that credit we get for teaching creativity over rote learning should be explored more carefully. Perhaps the smart alecks we produce are the keys to real success. We are doing something right, and not realizing it, or at least, not optimizing from it.

Slet’s go back to square one in education. Yes, do teach the 3 R’s. They are fundamentally necessary. With computer/information technology, it should be easier and faster to inculcate the basics. I’ve always felt, for example, that any engineering course can be taught in half the time, with the now extra sessions available to go into what good this information is and how best to apply it to the real world. Thus, there is now more time for analysis, problem solving and the all important 4 extra R’s. (Next: what are these additional R's?)I 

I go on to propose the Four Added R's of Education (and in case you've forgotten, the first three are reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic):
  • Rigor
  • Respect
  • Relevance
  • Relationship.
Sure, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics are important,  but, as Scientific American and I argue, those are not enough for a successful life and progressive country.   And I'm a biochemical engineer who spent his whole life in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. 

The editors of Scientific American touted Humanities (almost like art for STEAM) as important.  Sure, but that certainly is minimal, or, rather, shallow thinking.  While I agree with them, in principle, they need to expand and adjust their universe up to more meaningful level, like Rigor, Respect, Relevance and Relationship.  

All three major indexes closed at all-time highs today:

  • Dow Jones Industrial Average up 74 to 18,941
  • Nasdaq Composite up 0.89 to 5,363
  • S&P 500 up 15 to 2,197.

There is a very interesting Tropical Storm Otto in the Gulf of Mexico.  He will become a hurricane, plow through Nicaragua, then reappear in the Pacific.  

All signs indicate a turn, then, north into Mexico.


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