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Vol. 2, No. 4, July 2005

Welcome to Engineering Our World, the MIT School of Engineering's free bulletin for alumni and friends. Updated six times yearly, Engineering Our World describes some of the work we're doing at the leading edge of technological change, providing news and articles of the School's major initiatives.Past Issues

When I Testified Before Congress

by Dean Thomas L. Magnanti

"You may be familiar with the television program 'LA Law.' Somewhat facetiously, I suggest that we need one called 'Detroit Manufacturing.' We need some public expression that celebrates math, science, and engineering in a way that young people find exciting."

On May 19, 2005, I had the privilege to attend a Congressional hearing on "Challenges to American Competitiveness in Math and Science" to testify before the Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness (Committee on Education and the Workforce), chaired by Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon. Four witnesses testified: Mr. Norm Augustine, Retired Chairman and CEO, Lockheed Martin Corporation; Ms. June Streckfus, Executive Director, Maryland Business Roundtable for Education; Dr. Nancy Songer, Professor of Science Education and Learning Technologies, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor; and myself.

I found it most illuminating to participate in this important process and to learn what is on the minds of some of our government officials. Let me share with you some of the issues that the committee members and witnesses discussed at the hearing on these critical issues. In fact, I encourage you to read the testimonies of the witnesses and to watch the videotape of the hearing. (Scroll to May 19, 2005).

In speaking to the committee , I:

  1. Reemphasized the significance of engineering to the nation and to the world;
  2. Outlined some of today's challenges and how engineering and science education are changing;
  3. Suggested some areas in which engineering and science education need to change; and
  4. Offered some recommendations for implementing change at a national level.

Following the witness statements, committee members both offered comments and asked a number of thought-provoking questions. They included:

  • a perception that, in contrast to the culture in China for example, our national culture seems not to value science and math, including education in those fields;
  • a concern that schools in our country might not be adapting to change and that this situation impinges on our global competitiveness;
  • a discussion of considerations for compensating teachers and honoring teaching as a profession;
  • questions about the roles of government and the private sector in bringing needed change to math, science, and engineering education;
  • observations about the declines in the numbers of engineering and science Ph.D.s; and
  • dialogue on the challenge of identifying a national imperative that would spark wide involvement.

Here are some of my comments at the hearing during the question-and-answer segment. [The following is excerpted and adapted from that portion of the hearing.]