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Robert M. Gates, Ph.D.

Who Will Create New Industries for Americans?

As former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and current U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert M. Gates knows that America must be a global leader in science and technology if the nation is to maintain its current position in the world. Dr. Gates also has firsthand knowledge of the challenge this poses: he was president of Texas A&M University from 2002 to 2006 and interim dean of the university's George Bush School of Government and Public Service from 1999–2001.

As president of Texas A&M, he saw the number of math and science majors declining, and voiced concerns about the consequences. "The number of students who are being educated in science, engineering, technology and math [in China and India], is growing enormously at a time when our number of students who are graduating in those areas in American universities, is remaining flat," he said then. "We don't have a crisis on our hands right now. But if we don't do something now to begin to deal with these problems, we will have a serious problem in ten to fifteen years."

Gates believes the current situation would benefit from an education push like the one that occurred after the Soviet Union launched the first space satellite, Sputnik, in 1957. Americans were stunned to learn that the USA was being surpassed by the Soviets, he recalled, and set their sights on going to the moon: "In a way, it was the American counterpoint to Sputnik: 'we'll not only match you, we'll go you one better. And what's more, we'll do it in a decade.' And we did," he noted. "It gave an impetus to trying to create more interest in math and science. You had a huge number of American kids take up math and science in part because it was tied to space. They could see the different space launches, see astronauts going into space and into orbit and there was an excitement about all of that. There really began this explosion of technology development in the late '70s and early '80s. All of this was the product of kids who were being educated in the late '50s and 1960s."

In an age of increasing globalization, both the huge volume of human capital and the emphasis on high-tech education in India and China today means that jobs and manufacturing plants will continue to move to those countries. Their citizens will design, manufacture and purchase products once produced by U.S. industries; they will take over more service jobs once held by Americans. This will slow America's economic development and, ultimately, significantly undercut our quality of life.

"As we contemplate a world in which lower–end manufacturing positions are moving overseas," said Gates, "our economic growth is going to depend on the development — the creation — of whole new industries that are also going to be dependent on science and technology. The children who are studying math and science today in public school, and then study and major in math and science in college, will be the engineers and the scientists who create the new industries that create the new jobs for Americans."