Proposed Tech campus can do more to level playing field for opportunity


NYC Comptroller John C. Liu
Published August 17, 2011

NYC Comptroller John C. Liu

The Mayor’s recently announced plan to build a government-sponsored, engineering and science campus in New York challenges us to deliver training and jobs to the many talented young men and women of color that our economy has left behind.  It is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss.

Mayor Bloomberg is to be commended for launching the ambitious Applied Sciences NYC initiative that seeks to partner with a top-tier engineering school and establish a cutting-edge science and technology campus here.

The Bloomberg Administration projects that the new institution will generate billions of dollars of economic activity, spin off hundreds of new companies, and create nearly 30,000 jobs.
This addition to New York’s economic and intellectual capital will only reach its full potential, however, if it directly addresses the glaring opportunity gap facing women, African-Americans and Latinos in science and engineering.

According to the National Science Foundation, just 6 percent of graduate engineering students are African Americans or Latinos.   Women hold just 24 percent of the jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — a shameful statistic that has not budged in a decade and that US Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank has rightly described as “unacceptable.”

It is encouraging that the Mayor has included some conditions to support the involvement of women and underrepresented minorities. But the initiative as it is proposed presents a rare chance to level the playing field even more.

The schools that hope to benefit from this partnership with City government should be required to demonstrate their commitment to expanding opportunities to all New Yorkers.

The institutions applying to build a science campus here should be measured on their track record with minorities and women in areas such as student recruitment, graduation rates, and job-placement; their hiring and promotion of faculty and staff; and their success in turning academic breakthroughs into spin-off companies owned by minorities and women.

Schools should also provide detailed plans for outreach and partnership with underrepresented communities moving forward.

The City should also consider appointing more underrepresented minorities, as well as more women to the Advisory Committee for the Applied Sciences NYC initiative. Currently, there are nine members but no African-Americans or Latinos on the committee.

Lastly, the review process should be as open and transparent as possible. The Advisory Committee should hold public hearings, applicant submissions should be accessible to the public, and scoring criteria should be publicized. The better informed and involved the public is in this process, the more successful it will be.

Aggressive support for the science, technology and engineering sectors is critical to diversifying the City’s economy, which has relied heavily on the volatile financial sector in the past few decades.

But as a government-sponsored initiative, Applied Sciences NYC has a responsibility to provide all New Yorkers with greater opportunities to acquire new skills and find jobs in emerging industries. If we are not fully utilizing more than half the talent in our City, we are not going to get close to realizing our full potential.

Fairness, diversity and opportunity should be the values that drive our economic development and job creation programs. Bringing diversity to this project —and all of New York’s economic development — will keep our city on top for the 21st Century and beyond.

Comptroller John C. Liu is a product of NY public schools including the Bronx High School of Science and SUNY Binghamton where he studied Mathematical Physics.

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