Commencement remarks from Dean Richard B. Brown on May 7, 2010:

“Graduation day is a momentous occasion for both the recipients of the degrees, and for the families and friends who have supported you graduates emotionally and financially through your studies. 

I congratulate our graduates on choosing engineering or computer science as a career, and I congratulate them on completing a rigorous program of study. This is an interesting year in which to graduate from college. The job market is certainly not as strong as it was a few years ago. But especially in a weak economy, you are probably happy you chose to work hard and earn degrees that are in demand. 

One thing you may not have thought about is the connection between your education and the nation’s recovery from its economic problems. Many leaders in the federal government have been concerned that the United States is not producing more graduates in engineering and computer science; they see this as critical to maintaining America’s preeminence in the global economy. 

As I thought about what to say to our graduates in a few minutes tonight, I decided to do something that I have not done before, and that is to quote exherpts of a talk given by someone else.

In March, Sen. Ted Kaufman from Delaware said the following in a speech on the U.S. senate floor.

“I rise to speak today about the importance of engineering education. As my colleagues know, this is an issue near and dear to my heart. 

Today, America’s engineers have a central role to play in developing the innovative technologies that will help our economy recover and promote real job growth. In particular, as the global economy turns increasingly competitive, many nations are investing heavily in training their future scientists and engineers. 

I have to tell you, I am so encouraged by what they are doing in Utah. In 2002, Utah’s Governor challenged the higher education community through what they call the “Engineering Initiative,” to double – and then triple – the number of engineers and computer scientists that they graduate. Each year since, the legislature has allocated funds to support engineering education. These funds have been matched first by the university, then by corporate donations, and, finally, by the federal government. 

Utah’s governor also prioritized building requests from the college of engineering, while the state legislature started the Utah Science, Technology, and Research (or U-STAR) Initiative. U-STAR provides salaries and startup packages to hire faculty who are doing research that can find commercial applications.

Tenure-track faculty members grew by 46 percent since Utah’s Engineering Initiative began. From 2002 to 2009, engineering research expenditures went from $25 million to $56.9 million. 

The number of engineering degrees granted by the University of Utah rose 76 percent in the past decade, and roughly 80 percent of these undergraduates accept engineering jobs right there in Utah. 

What is more, the College of Engineering spun off 35 companies in the past three years. For the past two years, the University of Utah as a whole ranked second only to MIT in the number of startups. These results are just remarkable. 

Utah is a great example of the importance of investing in research and development. The Bureau of Economic and Business Research estimates that, for every $1 million of research generated by Utah’s research universities, $1.5 million is created in increased business activity. 

I become more encouraged every day that we have growing support for engineering. Engineers and scientists will foster the research and innovation that continues to lead America on a path to economic recovery and prosperity. Likewise, these discoveries and innovations will create millions of new jobs and they will help us to invest in our future security and prosperity. 

That is the way to long-term economic health, Mr. President.”

I agree with Sen. Kaufman that you graduates here tonight will not only address the important challenges of our day, but that you are a key to growing a strong, competitive economy. (In fact, I might have even helped him a bit with some of the details of his speech.) And I should say that Sen. Kaufman has given similar speeches in a number of venues other than on the Senate floor. I am pleased that the State of Utah and the University of Utah College of Engineering are being held up as examples of what the nation should do to grow the quality and number of engineering graduates. 

Speaking for the facutly, I want to tell you graduates how pleased we are with your accomplishments. It is a joy for us to see you grow from enthusiastic Freshmen to confident Seniors who have the tools to go forward in your careers or graduate school. And for those graduate students whom we have advised, we feel like your academic parents, very proud to see you mature into masters graduates, or become world experts in your area of study as you receive the Ph.D. degree. 

The quality and quantity of the research done in the College continues to grow, and I congratulate the faculty and graduate students for that.

I agree with Sen. Kaufman that what is happening at the U is phenomenal. 

Like most generations, the current one has plenty of challenges for you to work on – for example, providing enough clean energy to maintain our economy, rebuilding the country’s infrastructure, securing cyberspace, and making medical technology affordable. As with the challenges of the past, engineers and computer scientists will play a major role in solved these and improving our quality of life. 

We have a heritage in this College of many alumni who have truly changed the world for the better. As you put your energy and education to work on the challenges of your time, 

• you will make the most of yourselves, 
• you will do the most good that you can for humanity, 
• you will contribute to a strong economy for all, and 
• you will find great satisfaction in your professional lives. 

We are proud of each of you members of the Class of 2010. Congratulations!”