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Increased Funding Critical, Says Dean

Increased Funding Critical, Says Dean Testifying on Capitol Hill, Tufts Engineering Dean Ioannis Miaoulis called for increased funding to support engineering and science programs nationwide.Washington D.C.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [05.16.02] Despite a dramatic increase in the country's demand for engineers, interest in the field has dropped significantly at colleges and universities nationwide. Testifying on Capitol Hill last week, Tufts' Engineering Dean Ioannis Miaoulis called for an influx of funds to reverse the downward trend by supporting more engineering and science programs, citing their importance to the long-term growth and security of the United States.

"We have a severe shortage of engineers," Miaoulis told the National Journal's Technology Daily -- a Washington D.C. based news source on information technology policy and politics. "We import engineers from abroad, and a lot of our new technologies that we rely on for security reasons are developed abroad. And I don't think that's a safe path."

Miaoulis appeared before the House of Representative's Science Subcommittee on Research to support two bills that would provide over $700 million in additional funding to the National Science Foundation [NSF]. Crafted with bipartisan support, the legislation is designed to attract more students to engineering and science fields.

"The NSF, through its numerous investments in research and education, has made this nation stronger, better educated," Miaoulis told the subcommittee. "At Tufts University, we are particularly proud of NSF's contributions since the founder of NSF, Dr. Vannevar Bush, was one of our own engineering students and graduates. His assistant in starting the National Science Foundation, Professor Lloyd Trefethen, was actually my undergraduate advisor and mentor while I was an undergraduate at Tufts."

According to Miaoulis, NSF-funded programs at Tufts have been successful in attracting larger, more diverse groups of students to enroll in the University's engineering programs.

"It is difficult to attract engineering students, yet it is more challenging to retain them," the Tufts dean told the congressmen. "It is customary for an engineering school to lose 30-50 percent of its undergraduate population during the undergraduate years. At Tufts, we have reverse both of these trends, and I strongly believe that without the support we received from NSF we would not have been able to succeed."

Grants awarded to Tufts in the early 1990s helped the University create a pool of 60 engineering courses that combine a variety of interest with critical engineering skills -- including acoustics, fluid dynamics, and digital image processing.

"We used to have a net loss of 15 percent of our undergraduates," Miaoulis said. "With this NSF-funded curriculum, we managed to become the only engineering school in the country where more students transfer into engineering from liberal arts than from engineering to liberal arts. We actually see an increase in our class size most years."

The number of women enrolled in Tufts' School of Engineering has also increased by 26 percent, giving the University one of the most successful enrollment programs for female engineers in the country.

But increased enrollment isn't the only benefit to increased funds for research.

"A major contributor of the growth of the U.S. economy during the second part of the last century was federal investment in basic scientific research," Maioulis said. "Investments in the areas of physical science and engineering have resulted in the best science and technology program in the world."

Discoveries made in the hard science -- such as engineering and physics -- have helped spur on major advances in human health and biomedical sciences.

"A significant component of the research which culminated with the development of the CAT scan was conducted in our Physics department at Tufts under the late Professor Cormak, who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1980," Miaoulis told the committee. "Clearly computer science, mathematics, physics, and engineering are essential to the advancement of human health and provide the foundation for new discoveries in biomedical sciences."

Similarly, work currently underway within Tufts' School of Engineering may lead to advancements in everything from airport security to cancer screenings.

"[Research on nanotechnology at Tufts] may lead to new means of developing sensors and actuators to be used in Homeland Security as pathogen detectors or to create high throughput scanners to discover lifesaving drugs," Miaoulis said. "Other engineering faculty at Tufts are working on NSF-funded projects that will revolutionize mammography techniques by using optical spectroscopy for imaging of human tissues."

With more funds available to support engineering research and curriculum development, the Tufts dean said the nation's scientists will be better able to offer important scientific breakthroughs.

"The proposed legislation will enable NSF to fund more great ideas at a higher funding level and duration," he said. "The nation's creative minds should spend more time focusing on their research and less time trying to get funding."

In a vote taken shortly after the testimony of the Tufts dean and several other experts, the House Subcommittee approved the legislation, authorizing a 15 percent increase in the NSF's funding levels.

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