In a Nov. 21 Crosstalk letter (page 26), Jason McCampbell notes the shrinking numbers of U.S. students going into engineering. Today's college students are very astute as to what professions will get them the most bang for their educational buck. My son is a recent BSEE grad who won the Virginia State Electronics Design competition in 1999 and the University of Santa Clara robotics design contest in 2004. I may be biased, but I think he is a pretty smart kid. Out of the 100 active members in his fraternity, only about five of them were in engineering; the other 95 students were all business majors. When you read that the average CEO makes 495 times the average company employee, what choice would you make?
My son took his new degree out into Silicon Valley and found only two openings. One was a job for less than $35k a year at a startup whose president asked my son if he could be available seven days a week and for more than eight hours a day. The position was called an internship. The other offer was to work as a contract employee for $20 an hour. It offered no benefits (health, vacation, sick leave, etc.).
Faced with those stunning job opportunities in supposedly the hottest high-tech job market in the country, my son decided to chuck it and go to grad school.
Senior Design Engineer
Santa Clara, Calif.
Hardly a week goes by without my reading another article about some aspect of the engineering shortage here in the U.S. and how it is necessary to increase the numbers of engineers. While it is certainly true that the law of supply and demand will allow companies to have more engineering talent for less money if there are more engineers available, why is this the only solution I ever hear?
If I look back over past surveys of engineers, one complaint that continually comes up from engineers is that they are underutilized: They spend too much time doing mundane tasks that could easily be delegated to others who do not have their specialized talents. Don't managers read these surveys, or do they just discount the negative comments as the work of malcontents?
It seems to me that the problem is not so much lack of engineering talent as a lack of good management of that talent. Any competent farmer knows it is wasteful to use his $100,000 tractor to pick up groceries, so why cannot highly educated management realize that it is equally wasteful to have $100,000 engineers do work that any high school graduate could do equally well?
Re. "U.S. engineer education not in dire straits: study" (Dec. 19 , page 1): Kristina Johnson seeks to defuse alarm at the relatively low graduation rate of U.S. engineers by suggesting that China and India count technicians to inflate their total of graduates. Dean Johnson should be well aware that most of the four-year graduates in the inflated U.S. total would barely pass as two-year technicians in other countries.
When it comes to the engineering nitty-gritty that is the backbone of instrumentation, automation and product design, U.S. graduates are even fewer than has been let on. The shallow depth of the courses, the lack of mathematical rigor in their teaching, the low standards of mastery required of the students and the ignorance of the professors are a disgrace.
James A. Kuzdrall
Intrel Service Co.
Guest worker yes, citizen no
Loring Wirbel's editorial "Latter-day Know-Nothings" (Dec. 19, page 4) sets up a straw man argument. The problem with illegal, "undocumented" workers in this country is not that they are here but that they are undocumented. We need to establish a guest worker program with control over the people admitted. Those people here under such a program should not be eligible for the same benefits as citizens or full immigrants. They should not have to pay Social Security taxes and should not reap the benefits of Social Security's retirement plan. Their offspring, even if born in this country, should not be granted automatic citizenship.
We can't define this issue as an argument between those who want no "foreigners" and those who want "open borders." Neither of those two extreme views will provide a solution.
Twain Harte, Calif.