***Coming This November: US Black Engineer magazine's 2008 Diversity edition will spotlight the careers of some of the most prominent blacks in Information Technology in Q&A profiles.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Putin to Obama, McCain: Top This

It's beyond Sputnik 2.0. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is now determined to make mother Russia a world leader in science and technology.

Putin has urged that his country spend $25 billion (600 billion Russian rubles) over the next two years to pump up its ageing technology infrastructure. He also offered ambitious plans to create two national research universities to direct fundamental research over five years to the tune of another $10 billion.

The news came after the end of August, when Russia’s heavy-handed aggression toward it's much smaller neighbor, Georgia, drew the ire of the world – perhaps a harbinger of foreign problems that will confront the next American president. Putin's Kremlin-like military actions may be outdated, cold-war style, but he understands upgrading Russia’s facility for science, technology, mathematics and engineering is what will power his nation's tanks and missiles, enhance Russian national security, and create commercial activity.

Zooming right over Russia's border to Alaska's mainland, what about Putin's soon to be U.S. rival -- McCain or Obama? Where do they stand on STEM?

Barack Obama would double government financial support for basic research, reform the U.S. patent system, appoint the nation’s first chief technology officer and exploit science and mathematics initiatives for workforce development and innovation.

John McCain would combine capital investment, corporate tax incentives and less government regulation to jumpstart U.S. science and technology. Both would make the U.S. research and development tax credit permanent.

But matching Putin? Only the next four years will tell. --M.V. Greene

Friday, September 19, 2008

Black Engineer blog has a Brand New Podcast

Black Engineer blog has a brand new podcast. To listen to USBE content on your iPod or MP3 player, go to http://podcasts.odiogo.com/us-black-engineer/podcasts-html.php and click Subscribe.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Talent Drained Out of Africa

The Council on Foreign Relations reported recently on Africa’s vexing “Brain drain." That's when a nation's skilled workers—regardless of whether they get their university education at home or abroad—take flight for more money in the United States and other industrialized countries.

But as the article observes, skilled-worker exodus is neither new nor particular to Africa. The nations of India, China, Ireland, and Russia are also affected, although generally not as adversely.

In 2005, a World Bank study reported Britain had lost more skilled workers to the global "brain drain" than any major industrialized country. At 17 per cent of the total, about 1.4 million graduates have left the UK to look for more highly paid jobs in the US, Canada and Australia. This fuels concerns that Britain's failure to defend its manufacturing, science, and university base pushes highly skilled workers overseas and risks damaging long-term productivity.

Stakes Are Higher in Accra, Nairobi, and Luanda

The Brits can worry about losing some university graduates, but in sub-Saharan countries the loss slashes the tiny middle class. More than 40 percent of skilled African workers emigrate to wealthier countries. Of the 10 countries with the highest percentage of college-educated citizens living abroad, six are in Africa: Ghana (47 percent), Mozambique (45 percent), Kenya (38 percent), Uganda (36 percent), and Angola and Somalia (33 percent).

The study didn't show that the exodus is more prevalent in sectors such as engineering, IT, medicine, or academia compared to other university majors, but public health experts told the CFR that the loss of medical staff contributes to a decline in health indicators in African countries.

The numbers are stark. In 2007, the British government reports that more than 17,000 doctors and nurses from Africa were recruited. More dramatically, a 2008 study, New Data on African Health Professionals Abroad, says some 65,000 African-born physicians and 70,000 African-born nurses were working in developed countries by the year 2000. They represented about one in five African-born physicians and about one-tenth of African-born professional nurses.

Positive Aspects

Some experts say that as more foreign businesses look to Africa talented expats may boomerang back to their home countries to work for or start businesses. In an essay in the book, African Brain Circulation: Beyond the Drain-Gain Debate, Rubin Patterson proposes that Africans could lead an environmentally conscious industrial surge similar to the information economy wave pioneered by Asian nationals in Silicon Valley during the 1990s. That remains to be seen.

But one example of a credentialed expat moving back is Cheick Diarra. In 2003 the mechanical and aerospace engineer, who spent years working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the US, returned to his native Mali.

The PhD, who was featured as an HBCU alumnus that-you-need-to-know, in the recent issue of US Black Engineer & Information Technology went back to his family farm and advocated using technology-centric solutions to address Africa's food security and nutrition problems.

News of his personal quest travels. In 2006, Bill Gates appointed Diarra chairman of Microsoft Africa and an unofficial ambassador of technology to the continent. That's a grand gesture, and will surely be helpful. But the Catch-22 that bedevils too many African countries is that they lack the political and economic stability, financial controls, agricultural base, and basic technical infrastructure to keep many of their best and brightest home or to draw them back from abroad.---MV Greene

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Let’s Blame the Teachers. Not.

As you gather supplies for the new school year, give some thought to recent, but normal news. The Program for International Student Assessments reports that the US lags far behind other developed nations in math and science education.

Big whoop, you say. Well its not just foreigners that decry our kids’ miseducation. Scores from the US National Assessment of Education Progress show that while the achievement gap is narrowing and elementary students are making some gains in math in lower grade levels, only about a third of our eighth-grade students are at or above proficiency in math. Less than a quarter of our high school seniors are at or above proficiency in math.

If an estimated 75 percent of middle-school students are taught math and science by teachers without degrees or certification in the subjects, why not blame teachers for American students falling behind their international peers? What you teach is what you get, right?

But many who care about advancing Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education — rather than playing the blame game— prefer to improve teachers’ skill sets.

“Teachers cannot be expected to teach what they do not know themselves,” said Rep. George Miller, D-CA at a discussion of the findings of the National Math Panel’s report on how US children are learning and being taught math. The congressman, who is chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, also said:

“We are not giving our teachers the training and support needed to provide effective math instruction to students. We have to provide teachers with opportunities to learn math while they are still in school and to participate in professional development programs throughout their careers.”.

Ideas for improving pre-service teacher training, in-service professional development, training, and ongoing support for teachers are being advanced in federal circles. One of the reasons Congress enacted the America COMPETES Act in 2007. The Act authorizes programs like the Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate, which would expand low-income students' access to AP/IB coursework by training more high school teachers to lead AP/IB courses in math, science, and critical foreign languages in high-need schools.

Educating the Educators

Yet, it may take innovative programs like one at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, to get the job done.

Goddard’s NASA Explorer School gives educators an opportunity to see the space agency’s work first-hand and take new skills and perspectives back to their classrooms. Nineteen teachers from around the country are the first group to be enrolled. Included in the program is a weeklong workshop program that informs educators about NASA programs. Educators get to interact with NASA scientists and engineers about work, including the Hubble Servicing Mission, Lunar Reconnaissance Mission and studies of lunar geology.

The goal of the hands-on program is to have participants return to their classrooms with additional science knowledge. And that’s a great idea. We just need a million more--MV Greene

Monday, August 11, 2008

Hooray for the Underwater Brother!!

When it comes to mythbusting excellence, Cullen Jones, member of the 2008 US Olympic swim team, fits Black Engineer's bill.

Jones, first-ever African American to hold or share a world record in swimming, was the third leg for the US quartet that won the Beijing 4x100 Freestyle Relay in remarkable style.

So what do black swimmers and black engineers have in common? Well, we could discuss the thermodynamics of a body moving through a liquid. But let’s not. In a word: diversity.

Like Black Engineer magazine, who want to improve diversity in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers, Cullen Jones, wants to do the same for black kids in swimming . The top swimmer, who is breaking cycles and world records in the sport, is also making a splash about water safety with the USA Swim Foundation.

Talent, drive and opportunity are equal parts in the success of a record-breaking black swimmer and an innovative black engineer . Nuff said. --Frank McCoy.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Want a Job? Get a STEM Degree

Yeah. As much as we hate saying that we told ya so; as did family, mentors, and probably, even your envious friends:

The latest Department of Labor unemployment report spotlights the rain on the economy as the nation’s overall jobless rate rose to 5.7 percent in July. Job losses are ripping across bulwark industries from construction to manufacturing, transportation, telecommunications, and of course, the big automakers.

But (what a wonderful word), there is a green——as cash money——lining if you are a June 2008 college graduate with, you guessed it: a degree in a science, technology, engineering, or math-related discipline.

NACE, or National Association of Colleges and Employers, reports that although new grads with soft majors are struggling, STEM grads have really strong prospects. In fact, career centers and recruiters told NACE that the industries that need, and want, STEM grads include accounting, information technology, health care, the sciences, biotechnology, and engineering.

Which is great news for geeks. Nuff said.--Frank McCoy

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Math Girls Are the New Norm

I love summer, but the prospect of fall excites me. Why? The National Women of Color Technology Conference arrives shortly. The 13th annual event, in my humble opinion, is the premier gathering for women of color that work, or aspire to work in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. WOC rocks. If you don’t believe me, just look at who featured at last year's event.

That’s why the news that girls can do math just as well as boys is such a turn-on. Math “geeks” (and I write the word geek with pride and affection) among our daughters, sisters, nieces, mothers, and aunts aren’t aberrations. Math girls are the new norm and a study of the test scores of seven million students in 10 states, published in Science magazine, proves it.

Click here to see a video of the Math Girl news.

OK. Full disclosure. I’m biased because there are female scientists in my family and I edit Women of Color magazine, the sister publication of US Black Engineer & Information Technology magazine.

Regardless. The prospect of thousands of women techs and scientists, all of whom are good in math, celebrating their achievements is a delight to anticipate. Nuff said.--Frank McCoy.