Carnegie Mellon Today

Carnegie Mellon Today

Carnegie Mellon News Services Home Page

Is America Falling Behind?

Experts Discuss Ways to Stem the Brain Drain

Carnegie Mellon's Pradeep Khosla; Bob Black of the American Society for Engineering Education; William Holstein, editor-in-chief of CEO Magazine; Alex Sciulli of Mellon Financial Corp. and the Engineering Society of Western Pennsylvania; and Peter Faletra of the U.S. Department of Energy recently discussed how America can stay competitive in the global economy at the Engineering Society of Western Pennsylvania in downtown Pittsburgh.

Pradeep Khosla, dean of Carnegie Mellon's College of Engineering, says the U.S. still leads the world in research and development. "We can make the changes necessary to be competitive," he says.
A panel of experts led by Carnegie Mellon University Engineering Dean Pradeep Khosla recently shared ideas on how the United States can prepare itself to compete in the ever-changing global economy.

"We must train engineers who will be managing, creating and deploying innovation," said Khosla during a panel discussion entitled "Is America Falling Behind?"

More than 60 engineers, academics, researchers and business leaders jammed a second floor meeting room at the Engineering Society of Western Pennsylvania in downtown Pittsburgh to discuss ways to stem the brain drain.

Moderated by William J. Holstein, editor-in-chief of CEO Magazine, panel members included Bob Black, deputy executive director of the American Society for Engineering Education; Peter Faletra, assistant director of the Office for Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy; and Alex G. Sciulli, a senior vice president at Mellon Financial Corp. and first vice president at the Engineering Society of Western Pennsylvania (ESWP).

Despite recent studies by the American Society for Engineering Education and the National Academy of Engineering reporting that fewer than 5 percent of undergraduate degrees awarded in 2004 were in engineering, America can remain "at the top of the food chain" if it trains its engineers in management, finance, policy and entrepreneurship, Khosla said.

"We need to change the perception of engineering," said Sciulli. "One of our greatest challenges is to prep engineers in topics that are considered 'soft' by some—public speaking, leadership and writing," he said.

Panel members said it's not enough anymore to be a technical genius, you have to be able to develop a business plan and execute it, too.

"It's a new world out there and we need to understand how important engineers and scientists are," Faletra said. "Scientists and engineers make up less than 5 percent of the population but create up to 50 percent of our gross domestic product."

But in the disciplines underpinning our high-tech economy—engineering, math, and science—America is steadily losing its global edge. China will likely produce six times the number of engineers next year than will graduate in the U.S., according to the American Society for Engineering Education. As other countries create the learning centers and jobs to hang on to their best and brightest, the U.S. is losing a dependable pipeline of talent.

Ten years ago, for example, American companies and engineers were granted 10,000 more U.S. patents than foreign companies. Now, that margin is down to 4,000, and six of the top 10 companies are foreign.

Still, Khosla argues that all is not lost in the U.S. quest to remain a global superpower.

"We still lead the world in research and development," Khosla said. "We can make the changes necessary to be competitive."

Sciulli said that you don't have to be an engineer and work in technology. "You can take leadership roles in other areas," he said.

That leadership goal is a big part of the ESWP's mantra as the 125-year-old organization holds quarterly educational panel discussions about key engineering issues, and supports speakers interested in giving talks at area high schools about careers in engineering.

Chriss Swaney
December 29, 2005

Carnegie Mellon Home