A Sobering Reality (Editor's Window)1 Mar, 2008 By: Amy Stankiewicz
Ongoing cuts to science and technology initiatives are discouraging, but we shouldn't be dissuading this country's youth from entering these fields.
After reading my editorial that discussed Brazil's efforts to put even the most impoverished citizens of that country in touch with science and technology and my plea to U.S. industry and academia to encourage our citizens in a similar way ("Beyond Borders," Cadalyst, February 2008, p. 6), a reader e-mailed me a discouraging, but completely understandable, response:
"I really enjoyed your article," this reader said. "But as a scientist, I am strongly opposed to my children getting into science in this country."
The reader then went on to describe legislators' recent decisions (as reported in Science magazine in January) to approve only a miniscule portion of requested increases for the U.S. Department of Energy's (DoE) Office of Science. According to the Science articles, the limited funding caused officials within the Basic Energy Sciences (BES) division of the Office of Science to halt an $80 million effort that had to date attracted more than 700 proposals to pursue use-inspired science of solar energy, hydrogen fuels, and advanced nuclear reactors.
I assume it's this type of inadequate funding that has caused our reader to envision a bleak future for science and technology. And his feelings are totally rational. However, consider what would happen if we all embraced his attitude. Not only would scores of children lack the personal support needed to excel in these career choices, any momentum that we as a community would have gained by boasting about the successes made in the areas of science and technology (and, ultimately, in urging Congress to take funding requests seriously) would, in a word, die. To that end, we would become as much a part of the problem as Washington. I'm almost certain that American scientists don't want to see this happen.
Specific to engineering, I'll return to the points I made in my editorial in February, in which I encouraged the software and hardware developers leading the CAD industry to take a more collaborative role in training and educating this country's youth. It's absolutely amazing what one new opportunity can do to affect a child's vision of his or her future. And the efforts we make to touch these children must go beyond one company donating one type of software to a university here and there.
Perhaps more collaboration between competing companies to provide a comprehensive, hands-on CAD training curriculum in all colleges and universities could even spur more of the industrywide momentum that I refer to above, momentum that can force those making our laws to make science and technology research a top priority. We can't leave the future of our world's scientific advancements to someone else. The time is now, and the responsibility is ours.