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Kaufman prepared to tackle STEM education in Delaware.
Former U.S. Sen Ted Kaufman

Former U.S. Sen Ted Kaufman has been named co-chair of the state’s STEM Council by Governor Jack Markell (D).Kaufman, an engineer with the DuPont Co. before becoming a longtime advisor to Sen. Joe Biden and succeeding Biden in the Senate when he became vice president in 2009, recently offered his thoughts on STEM and related issues in a phone interview with DFM News . Below are excerpts from that interview:

Learning about STEM:

STEM was one of the … main areas I worked on in the Senate. I was the only engineer in the Senate, the only working engineer in the Senate.

When I went down there, literally in the first two weeks, a group of engineering deans from around the country, six or eight of them, came in to talk to me about what they were doing….

In the process, I also became a spokesman. I spoke to the American engineering deans, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, a whole bunch of different folks…. I also went around the state, to different schools, to Sussex Tech, to St. Georges Tech. They’re starting new STEM program in Red Clay. I got involved with the engineering school at the [University of Delaware]. I talked to the folks at Delaware State [University]. I also went down to Aberdeen, try to help [UD President] Pat Harker get more of the work they’re doing [at Aberdeen Proving Ground] for the folks to come up to Delaware. They were very receptive.

So I got very excited about STEM.

Becoming an STEM apostle:

At the same time I was doing that I gave a whole number of speeches on the [Senate] floor. My main theme was … in the last 10 years, growth in jobs came in consumer products, housing and finance, they are not coming back. Where are we going to get new jobs? The new jobs are going to come out of tech – and a lot of it’s going to be clean energy, biomedical, those types of things.

So I became kind of an apostle in the Senate for the idea that the future for America lay in these jobs and part of that was developing STEM education to turn out better science, technology, engineers and math, and more.

On chairing the governor’s advisory council:

Jack [Markell], when he first had the idea of the STEM council wanted me to chair it then, which was like a year ago. But I said one of the big things a STEM council can do is help us get more federal funds, I feel it’s a conflict of interest for me to be getting federal funds. I couldn’t do that. So I put it off.

And I knew when I left [the Senate], I’m chair of the Congressional oversight panel on the TARP [Troubled Assets Relief Program], so I told Jack I’d much rather be the co-chair. Jack said fine.

Plans for the council:

I’m in the process of talking to everybody now. We’ll have our first meeting toward the end of March….

We have a bunch of great programs in the state for STEM…. There’s a bunch of organizations that coordinate the stuff, and make it really work so every teacher does not have to reinvent the wheel on these programs….

One of the things that helped us in Race to the Top was how advanced we are in developing STEM education.

We have a real base here…. If you go around Delaware there are a bunch of tech companies that are growing at a pretty good rate and will consume students if we can turn them out … The Fisker thing was great, first off because we got the auto workers back to work, but also because it sent a message that if you want to do high tech things, Delaware is a good place to come….

It’s kind of a chicken and egg thing. If we don’t get the jobs, we don’t have the labor. If we don’t have the labor, we don’t get the jobs….

I genuinely believe that there is a confluence of events that put Delaware in a position to help the country, help the environment, help biomedical, help all these things, create more jobs, do all good things.

The challenge of China:

About a year ago, (author) Tom Friedman spoke to a group of senators…. One of the great things about clean energy, he said, is there’s our chance to catch up to the Chinese. The Chinese flat out just don’t get it, we can ship a lot of stuff over to China, [he said].

Then in September, Hu Jintao, the president of China, went to the UN and started talking about how we’ve got to do something about climate and get this clean energy going. And then he went to Copenhagen and cut the deal with Obama to do more. And they’re going to have the biggest solar panel in the world, the biggest wind farm in the world. So China, what’s happened in the last year, everybody’s kind of figuring it out.

A year ago we could have stolen a march to a certain extent … That was when China and India were saying no no no, we’re in the developing world [so it’s not in our interest to promote clean energy]… But they turned on a dime because they see that that’s where the jobs are. It is a confirmation of what a whole bunch of them have been saying for quite a while – here’s where the future is, if we’re going to get our unemployment rate down, if we’re going to start getting middle class folks making more money, this is the place to be.