PRISM Magazine Online - April 2000
ASEE Today
EDC Goes to Washington

By Eric Iversen

Director and Ehlers with engineering deans from Ehlers' home state of Michigan

Director and Ehlers with engineering deans from Ehlers' home state of Michigan
Calling funding for engineering and science "the most important single investment in the future we can make," David Gergen, editor-at-large for U.S. News & World Report, sketched a variety of strategies for deepening public understanding of the issue in a speech at the annual Public Policy Colloquium of ASEE's Engineering Deans Council in mid-February. The former advisor to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton advised the deans in attendance to bring politicians and journalists "across the bridge into your world" by talking plainly and widely with them and others in the public sphere about the dramatic, enriching impact that their work as researchers and educators can have on people's lives.

 

Keynote speaker David Gergen listens to University of Oklahoma dean W. Arthur

Keynote speaker David Gergen listens to University of Oklahoma dean W. Arthur "Skip" Porter as Mary Good looks on.
Conviction about the value of funding scientific research must spread beyond the community of its practitioners, Gergen argued, in order "to create a more durable foundation and consensus on the issue that can take the country into the future." A "personal odyssey" of his own through reading, conversation with scientists and engineers, and firsthand encounters with the marvelous results of their work led Gergen to the conclusion that it is "wrong for you all to have fun and for the rest of us not to understand what you're doing."

 

The two-day colloquium drew 110 deans of engineering from 43 states to Washington, D.C., to hear speakers from government, industry, and the media, and to visit with members of Congress. Titled "Engineering America's Public Policy," the gathering gave the deans an opportunity to plot a course for engineering education at a moment in American history when the world is dazzled by the promise of scientific and technological advances. At an evening reception, the deans honored Representative Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) for his "outstanding contributions to national engineering and science policy, research, and education."

 

EDC Chair Steve Director presents Rep. Vernon Ehlers with an award for his
EDC Chair Steve Director presents Rep. Vernon Ehlers with an award for his "outstanding contributions" to engineering

Representative Thomas Ewing (R-IL), a member of the House Science Committee, encouraged colloquium attendees to "get involved and stay involved year in and year out" in government debates about engineering and science policy. Noting that in Congress the "squeaky wheel gets the grease," Ewing observed that the scientific research community "must be one of the voices that are heard" if this year's strong budget support is to continue into the future. Duncan Moore, associate director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, described some of the strategies OSTP uses to build support on Capitol Hill for engineering and science funding, and urged the deans to actively participate in the budget process when the appropriations committees hold their hearings. He also suggested that they visit their congressional delegation and engage in consistent, year-round exchanges of information. He concluded by issuing a call for more people with engineering expertise to work on Capitol Hill, a development that he said deans and their universities could nurture by devising incentives and rewards for faculty members to spend time in Washington.

 

Johns Hopkins dean Ilene Busch-Vishniac chats with WPI director of external and government affairs Linda Looft.

Johns Hopkins dean Ilene Busch-Vishniac chats with WPI director of external and government affairs Linda Looft.

Mary Good, a veteran of academia, industry, and government, who served four years as Under Secretary for Technology in the Commerce Department, offered an analysis of how the engineering and physical sciences community needs to organize itself to capitalize on its recent legislative progress. She suggested setting up an advocacy group that would represent all the many disciplines that conduct engineering and scientific research to lobby Congress for funding and support.

National Science Foundation assistant director for engineering Eugene Wong outlined the NSF initiatives in the Fiscal Year 2001 Budget, including research in information technology, nanotechnology, biocomplexity, and the 21st-century workforce.

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