On Saturday, February 18, 2006, Northrop Grumman Chairman, CEO and President Ronald D. Sugar addressed the Deans of Historic Black Colleges and Universities in Baltimore. Below are his delivered remarks.
Technology, Diversity, and the Future
(Introduction by John Brooks Slaughter, president and CEO, National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, Inc., and member of Northrop Grumman’s Board of Directors)
Thank you, John, for those kind words. As many of you know, John sits on Northrop Grumman’s Board of Directors. That makes him one of my bosses, so I am especially pleased to hear that warm introduction. By the way, John chairs the board’s Audit Committee and is one heck of a director.
John, we are also all very proud of the work you have done for NACME, the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering. We will never find a better advocate than you.
Twenty years ago John was the very first recipient of the Black Engineer award. And since that day he has never stopped validating the judgment of those who chose him to receive it.
I count it a singular honor to address this body—to discuss important issues that affect our nation and our world. This Black History month is a poignant one. We spend it mindful of the life and work of Coretta Scott King. We recall the courage and contributions of Rosa Parks. We also remember the lives of Shirley Horn, as well as one of America’s great success stories, John H. Johnson, founder of Jet and Ebony magazines. He started with nothing, but he believed that hard work, dedication and perseverance could overcome almost any prejudice and open any door.
Too many Americans are unfamiliar with figures like Johnson, Garrett Morgan, Elijah McCoy, Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, or so many other brilliant and visionary countrymen from our nation’s history. W.E.B. DuBois once stated his belief that black heritage—and I quote:
“. . . flits through the tale of Ethiopia and of the Egypt of the Sphinx. Throughout history,” he said, “the powers of single blacks flash like falling stars, and die sometimes before the world has rightly gauged their brightness.”
At its best, Black History Month helps our nation gauge the brightness of these American stars of African descent. But too often, promoting the contributions of black Americans leaves the impression that their contributions have benefited only Black America, and not America at large. Events such as those of this weekend are important because they help dispel that misconception.
This morning, I would like to discuss why the work you do as engineering educators at our nation’s black colleges and universities transcends race, politics, and gender. I would like to take a few minutes to explain how important it is that your work continue; important to the United States, to our way of life, and to our collective future in a changing world.
The first point I would like to make is that the future of the world is a high-tech one. Robert Gates, a former presidential security advisor and now President of Texas A&M University, put it this way: He said;
“Irreversible changes in the world mean that, more than ever before, America’s economic future, its security and its place in the world depend on scientific research and technological innovation.”
I concur. Our nation’s future – the future of our economy, our security, and our liberty – balances on the fulcrum of intellectual capital.
As engineers, this is a future we understand. We engineers have been around a long time. Before astrology became astronomy; before alchemy evolved into chemistry, there were engineers, and nowhere more prominently than in W.E.B. DuBois’s Egypt of the Sphinx and the Pyramids.
The work of those ancient African engineers still amazes us. Once the priests had picked a site for the construction of a pyramid, the royal engineers would scrape away the sand and gravel until they got down to the bedrock. Then they chiseled a trench in the rock, around the area of construction. The corners of the trench were squared with ropes knotted in the 3-4-5 right triangle configuration, guaranteeing perfect 90 degree corners. The trench was filled with water from the Nile and the bedrock was smoothed to the level of the water before they started hauling the enormous blocks from the quarry. The engineers then began construction in earnest, the translation of their ideas into reality.
Translating ideas into reality is what engineers have always done. Since time immemorial, engineers have been central to the quest for knowledge, innovation, and the creation of intellectual capital. Virtually every western thinker and visionary since the Greeks has been in agreement on one point – that the human condition advances no faster than the proliferation of knowledge. In our own time it has been an army of anonymous engineers who gave us the first world-wide information infrastructure to make that knowledge proliferation possible through computers, satellite communications, and the internet. Five centuries ago, the invention of the printing press made knowledge more accessible and changed the world. Through modern information technology, the engineers of our age have increased the accessibility of knowledge a million fold.
One reason intellectual capital is so important is because mankind is just getting started. The British historian Paul Johnson has noted that:
“Less than 14 billion years have passed since the Big Bang. The species Homo Sapiens is less than 1 million years old. Civilization has existed for only about 8000 years. The Industrial Revolution occurred less than 250 years ago. We’ve harnessed electricity for only 150 years, atomic power for half a century. The rate of advance is accelerating very fast indeed, yet the pace is going to quicken at a speed we cannot now imagine. We are only at Chapter One in the story of humanity and its glories.”
High-tech intellectual capital is more important than ever. This is where you come in. The second point I would like to leave you with this morning is just how important you are to the creation of that capital and as such, you have your work cut out for you.
If you listened to the President’s State of the Union Speech last month, you heard him call for a major national effort to increase America’s competitiveness through increased research funding, R&D tax credits, and the training of more science and math teachers.
By the way, I will share with you that six weeks before that speech former Lockheed chairman Norm Augustine, Intel chairman Craig Barrett, the President of Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Bill Brody, and I met with Vice President Cheney at the White House to urge that the administration take this course of action. As we pointed out to the Vice President in December, America’s traditional dominance in technology is not guaranteed. In the past thirteen years our nation has lost more than 600,000 scientific and technical aerospace jobs.
We also find ourselves bracing for a tidal wave of retirements of our most experienced technical minds. Yet last year U.S. universities graduated only 70,000 engineers. Meanwhile, according to the National Academies, India graduated approximately 200,000 and China graduated more than 500,000. And each year, American companies are forced to spend more on tort litigation than on research and development. These are all frightening leading indicators of America’s future competitiveness in the world. Because technology is advancing so fast, we cannot allow ourselves to fall behind. To quote an old test pilot, “You haven’t been lost until you’ve been lost at mach three.”
Our competitiveness challenge gets even more problematic. Not only are our students avoiding math and science in high school and college, but those who want to study them have trouble finding teachers. U.S. school districts will need to hire 240,000 middle school and high school math and science teachers between now and 2010. Where will they come from?
Let me pause for a moment to reflect on my own 7th grade math teacher. I went to 7th grade in Los Angeles – actually South Central Los Angeles – at Horace Mann Junior High School. My math teacher was Mr. Harrison. He was interesting, inspirational, and effective. He really turned me to mathematics. He gave me special problems to solve. He encouraged me and other promising students to consider future careers based on math. He had one other attribute which would be of interest to this gathering – Mr. Harrison was, by coincidence, black.
As deans from historically black colleges and universities, you play a critical role.
And this is the third point I would like to impress upon you. Please keep up the search for young talent.
In your role as educators, your institutions are critical by helping to find and educate the technical talent of tomorrow; Human capital that might otherwise go undeveloped; Young people whose contributions might otherwise remain unavailable to a nation in need of them. As I have said before, inspire our youth and give them a mission and they will amaze us. Few people are better positioned than you to find, inspire, and develop those pools of human capital and to change our nation in the bargain.
I believe Americans have for too long confined their understanding of diversity as beneficial to specific groups rather than to our country as a whole. It is clear, however, that the more inclusive a nation is of women, people of color, and other differences, the more prosperous and advanced it is and the better off its people are.
The evidence in favor of diversity is everywhere in our modern world. And the lessons of history are clear: Exclusion is the enemy of progress. And I assert that circumstances today call out for Americans to re-evaluate ethnic and gender diversity. It is no longer simply a matter of redress, charity, or philanthropy. Diversity is now a vehicle for expanding our nation’s intellectual capital to the benefit of everyone who values America and its place in the world.
My company, Northrop Grumman, is striving to do its part. For the past two years, over forty percent of the many thousands of college graduates we have hired have been women and people of color. We actively participate in national and local diversity career fairs and career fairs at HBCUs; we financially support several of your colleges and universities; and we recruit from many more. We have a major partnership with Alabama A&M University that supports a science and math tutoring center for local middle school and high school students. And here in Baltimore, we have established a program called WORTHY. It stands for Worthwhile to Help High School Youth. It is designed to encourage high school students from challenged environments into engineering fields. And it provides them with mentoring and partial scholarships for college. This is good business and good citizenship. And the capable young men and women your colleges send us contribute to Northrop Grumman’s mission – helping to keep our nation secure.
As engineers, you are important. As educators you are critical. As divining rods for the pools of human capital still untapped, you are indispensable. In this quest, we are each the other’s ideal partner. There is great work yet to be done and together we can do it. I salute you for what you are doing. I congratulate the Black Engineers Conference team for twenty outstanding years, and I wish you a great Black History Month.