New reason no new scientists

It is not surprising for any of us to hear, yet again, that there is a decreasing number of American students going into scientific and engineering fields.

The same reasons have also been used for as long as I can remember. These include students’ lack of interest, parental pressure in not going into a scientific field because of the difficulty and pathetic salaries compared to some other professions and, of course, the rising engineering unemployment rate among U.S. citizens. The result of this decline has not been fully realized or understood, but many predict that other countries, such as China, will catch up to America, not only in scientific endeavors, but also in the international investment market and in military innovations. Earlier this year, China actually tested an anti-satellite weapon, blowing an orbital satellite into hundreds of pieces and leaving that area of space littered with debris. This will probably never be in real military use against the United States, but it was a strong statement for China’s relatively new space program. It is without question that if America wants to remain ahead of the rest of the scientific world, then more American students need to be earning advanced science degrees at the graduate level.

How to accomplish this is a question with which many universities are faced, but I believe that there is an obvious issue that nobody ever seems to address, and admittedly, I am addressing it timidly. This sentence from Purdue University’s aerospace engineering graduate admissions Web site says it all: “57 percent of our students are U.S. citizens.” Being a science major, I know that more and more foreign citizens are being admitted to the top universities — I have worked and gone to class with them here at Clemson — but 57 percent! This is only my second year in college, but I know many good American-born students that have applied for graduate positions and have been turned down. Or, more likely, good students that became discouraged and did not even apply to the top schools. And who could blame them with those kinds of numbers?

More than one school has these kinds of “positive” numbers on their websites. Take a look at MIT, Cal Tech and even Georgia Tech. This leaves me thinking: Is the lack of American scientists a result of the lack of students’ interests, or should we be holding graduate schools responsible for admitting such an appallingly low number of U.S. citizens? Universities, especially private ones, may defend themselves by saying that they are choosing the best students for their program, but what good is it for our country to educate so many non-allied foreign students at our best universities, and then allow them to go directly back to their home nations and compete against us? Is it the unrealistic dream of scientists uniting together worldwide for one common goal? Last time I checked, we live in a capitalist society and like it or not, there is a difference between a Chinese scientist making a discovery and an American scientist making the same one.

The only logical conclusion I could think of was that universities have become too afraid of cries for diversity. But this is not an issue of diversity. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a foreign citizen pursuing an education in America and then remaining here to join the workforce, even if he chooses not to become a citizen and just applies for a visa. This is actually one of the best examples of the “American dream,” and part of what keeps the United States ahead of the rest of the world’s scientists — we attract the majority of the best. We all probably have friends or professors that have done this, and we all probably agree that it is a great thing that they are able to do it. As a matter of fact, one solution to the problem may be making it easier for foreign graduate students to obtain work visas and U.S. citizenship while still in school.

However, it would still be foolish to think that all of the foreign science students admitted to our universities are going to stay here. Graduate admissions committees need to be more realistic and think of their nation’s future as they choose among an increasingly diverse pool of applicants. Lucas Hurd The Tiger Clemson University U-Wire