Engineers, Technologists Drive the World Forward

Experts aimed to inspire the next generation of STEM leaders at the 2017 Global Grand Challenges Summit.

Panel moderator Ali Velshi (left) speaks with Deanne Bell, Dean Kamen and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) during the 2017 Global Grand Challenges Summit. (Logan Werlinger/ GW Today)
July 21, 2017

By Kristen Mitchell

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said he doesn’t understand why science has become a partisan divide in the United States, a country whose founders were inventors and scientists informed by Enlightenment thinking.

“We are pro-science people in Virginia, and I love being in the Senate...but frustrations abound,” he said. “One of the things that really frustrates me greatly is the number of colleagues but also the number of folks in the current administration and even beyond who are anti-science.”

Because of the partisan divide around climate change in particular, it is nearly impossible to pass important legislation, said Mr. Kaine, the 2016 Democratic vice presidential nominee. Ignoring climate change doesn’t make the “scientific reality” go away, he said.

“We actually do climate legislation when we pass a massive hurricane relief bill after Tropical Storm Sandy, that’s actually climate legislation,” Mr. Kaine said. “When we have to rewrite the flood insurance laws in the United States because there is so much more flooding in different places than there used to be, that’s actually climate science legislation.”

Mr. Kaine talked about the importance of science and technology as part of a public engagement panel discussion at the 2017 Global Grand Challenges Summit at Lisner Auditorium on Thursday at the George Washington University. The three-day summit was sponsored by the United States National Academy of Engineering, the UK Royal Academy of Engineering and the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

Sen. Tim Kaine

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said the United States should lead the world on issues like climate change and criticized President Donald Trump for pulling out of the Paris Agreement. (Logan Werlinger/ GW Today)

The summit aimed to inspire the next generation of engineers and policymakers to address significant challenges facing the world. This year’s event focused on the intersection of technology and sustainability, health, security, education and public engagement.

Wes Bush, CEO of global security company Northrop Grumman Corp., addressed the summit Thursday with an appeal to students. It is an “amazing” time for college students to work toward degrees in engineering and technology fields, he said.

“The pace of this discovery and innovation is absolutely incredible, and our world needs it,” Mr. Bush said. “Our world needs the benefit science and engineering can bring to help humankind address some very, very tough challenges.”

Mr. Bush encouraged students to pursue their passions and make an impact where they can. Engineering students take a rigorous course schedule, he said, but the problem-solving skills, teamwork and leadership they learn will help them be successful in any field.

Students should stay grounded in their values and recognize the great responsibility that comes with their education.

“With the rapid advancements we’re all working to create, we together have a big responsibility to ensure that the capabilities that we create serve the good of humankind,” he said. “Few will understand the newly created capabilities the way that you will understand them, and you should see that unique perspective as being reflective of the inherent responsibility you will shoulder in applying a high set of values in scientific and technological decision making.”

Wes Bush

Wes Bush, CEO of global security company Northrop Grumman Corp. encouraged students at the Global Grand Challenges Summit to take advantage of all available opportunities in college and keep in touch with classmates and mentors. (William Atkins/ GW Today)

Thursday afternoon, Mr. Kaine participated in a panel discussion alongside Deanne Bell,  founder and CEO of Future Engineers and host of CNBC “Make Me a Millionaire Inventor,” and Dean Kamen, founder of FIRST Robotics and an inventor and entrepreneur.

Ms. Bell said even though she had no previous acting experience, her engineering background pushed her to audition to host “Make Me a Millionaire Inventor.” She assumed she wouldn’t be qualified for the position, but realized she didn’t know anyone else who had experience sharing their love for engineering with the general public.

“It hit me that we need to do so much more as a community,” she said. “We need to do so much more as engineers to communicate our passion and our love for engineering and all the work we’re doing on these challenges in a public venue.”

Being in the public eye has taught her how important representation is. Advocates need to reach girls in the classroom and through popular culture before they are 12 years old in order to get more of them involved in engineering, Ms. Bell said.

Mr. Kamen said people in the STEM world need to do a better job showcasing their work to the public. They create the things that the rest of us take for granted and help every generation make the world a better place, he said.

“They’re the engines of society. The trouble is the engines, they’re under the hood,” Mr. Kamen said. “They ought to be in the driver seat telling people where to take it.”

Mr. Kamen said scientists, technologists and engineers need to make it a priority to inspire the next generation of leaders. STEM organizations need to expand programs that emphasize K-12 education, he said.

“Stop complaining that we don’t produce enough scientists and engineers if the only thing they see in their life as a role model are frankly the distractions of the world,” Mr. Kamen said.

The Global Grand Challenges Summit was held in conjunction with the inaugural K–12 FIRST Global Challenge, which drew teams from around the world. That event included a robotics competition featuring an all-girl team from Afghanistan who made national news after their visas were rejected due to President Donald Trump’s travel ban.

The team was eventually allowed to travel to the United States and was awarded a silver medal for courageous achievement during the competition.

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