Writhing over the ‘rithmatic
Larry Sumney says math education in the U.S. is “a disaster,” and that has had dire consequences for the economy and his sector in particular. He has been CEO of Semiconductor Research Corp., an industry consortium based in Durham, since it was created in 1982. SRC’s network includes 250 universities and about 20 companies, including Intel Corp. and IBM Corp. Its Education Alliance foundation tries to improve science, technology, engineering and mathematics — STEM — education in the U.S. and is funding scholarships for 230 undergraduates in STEM majors this year at 14 universities.
How does STEM education in the U.S. rate?
The World Economic Forum ranks the U.S. 48th in the quality of math and science educa- tion. Sixty-nine percent of the U.S. public school students in fifth through eighth grade learn mathematics from teachers without a degree or a certificate in mathematics; 93% are taught physical sciences by a teacher without a degree in physical sciences. The U.S. ranks 27th among developed nations in the proportion of college students receiving undergraduate degrees in science or engineering.
Which countries are the leaders?
All the Asian countries — certainly, China, Japan, Taiwan. There are even countries in Africa that are doing better than we are. The parents see the importance of it, even though they don’t understand it. The teachers are better trained. We have to get away from saying our public schools don’t have enough money. It’s not the money. The problem is the teachers don’t have the capabilities in the areas that are important and the parents don’t understand it. We’re in the second or third generation, where the parents never learned anything about math, and so their kids didn’t.
What have the effects been?
By the early ’90s, graduate students were increasingly non-U.S. We realized that many of the foreign graduate students were capable, so we hired them. But now that’s been taken away. These people don’t graduate with a green card. They come here and they get their degree, and then they’re sent home to compete with us. So that’s made things worse.
9/11. That’s when the immigration laws changed. The number of right-to-work permits has been severely limited.
What can be done?
Staple a green card to a foreign student’s diploma. When I started SRC, more than 50% of the engineering students were from foreign countries. The universities wanted to maintain pre-eminence in engineering education, but they couldn’t get quality students out of our public school system, so they started allowing foreign students in. And the foreign students stayed here and worked for 10 to 12 years. They eventually went home, and that’s how China became good, how Japan increased its capabilities. But still, in that 10 to 12 years, they did an awful lot of good for this country.
What will we see in the market 10 years from now if we continue like this?
You will see the leading manufacturers not be U.S.-based companies. Right now, Taiwan, for example, is a leading manufacturer of integrated circuits for U.S. companies. It’s called a foundry. The companies here design the integrated circuits that they want and pass the designs to a foundry. The foundry manufactures the integrated circuit, and then it comes back to the United States. If we continue this way, we’re not going to be able to even design the integrated circuit, so that will have to be done somewhere else. And eventually everything moves offshore, because that’s where the company is going to get its talent.
N.C. State University has found a new, if roundabout, way to turn trash into cash for itself. Lonnie C. Poole Jr., who earned a degree in civil engineering from State and made a fortune hauling garbage, and his wife are giving the university $40 million, the biggest gift in its 124-year history. It will swell State’s endowment by nearly 10% and boost the profile of the university’s young management college, which is getting most of the money and a new name: Lonnie C. Poole Jr. College of Management. Poole founded Raleigh-based Waste Industries Inc. in 1970. It netted $24 million in 2007 before going private in 2008.
SANFORD — Coty plans to add 140 jobs this year at its local factory. That will bring the New York cosmetics maker’s employment in the region to nearly 1,000. The new hires will make lacquer for fingernails and toenails.
HOLLY SPRINGS — Swiss drug maker Novartis will build a $36 million research lab here, where it opened a vaccine plant last year. The lab will employ about 100; annual pay will average $106,200. The lab and factory will employ a total of about 450.
HENDERSON — Clayton Homes, plans to close its plant here this month, idling 113 workers. The Alcoa, Tenn.-based maker of modular homes will continue to operate four other factories in North Carolina, including one in nearby Oxford.
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — William M. Moore Jr., 71, replaced Earl Johnson Jr., 78, as chairman of Research Triangle Institute’s board. Moore is managing partner of Raleigh-based Lookout Capital.
DURHAM — HTC plans to open a research-and-development center, hiring 45 workers by the end of the first quarter. It will be one of the Taiwan-based smart-phone maker’s three R&D sites in the U.S.
CARY — SciQuest agreed to pay $13 million for Houston-based AECsoft USA and AEC Global (Shanghai) Co. They develop technology that SciQuest says will complement its software, which allows customers to buy products cheaply online.