Electronic Design

Visionaries> Jack Gifford

U.S. Leadership Relies On Engineering

From a strategic standpoint, the United States must do a better job of encouraging more of its youth to enter the engineering field. Engineering simply isn't as popular a discipline in the U.S. today as it was just 20 years ago. Some students pursue careers other than engineering because they consider them to be more glamorous. Because American students aren't as focused on engineering as their counterparts in Europe and Asia, an increasing number of engineering jobs are moving overseas. If the trend of the past 10 years continues over the next five years, the U.S. will lose its position of technical leadership in the world. America's high standard of living, brought about by technological innovation, will cede to Europe and Asia.

The lack of growth in our engineering schools, the result of tepid demand, is symptomatic of the problem. The solution starts with parents. They need to encourage the pursuit of science instead of taking a laissez-faire approach to their children's education. Future jobs will require a science background, a fact that both parents and children need to understand. Hopefully, the technological advances of the past three or four years will wake them up. If they want to preserve America's present standard of living, they will have to fight for it.

We need more efforts like the University of California Hall of Science Lower Education Program and the East Palo Alto Education and Tennis Foundation. These organizations work to improve the quality of math and English education in local underprivileged schools. Many high-tech companies also are fostering engineering. For example, Maxim has placed 200 high school and college-entry-level students in summer jobs to expose them to the real world. It's wonderful to watch their reactions as they begin to consider becoming a chemist or an engineer. This really should be the parents' job, though.

To me, learning engineering isn't as difficult as learning a foreign language. Students with above-average intelligence can become engineers. Interest level and perseverance are the most important qualities. Quite honestly, I struggled through school. All it takes to become an engineer is an ordinary person with good character who is aggressive and goal-oriented and wants to get ahead.

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