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SURGE OF COLLEGE STUDENTS PURSUING 'CLEAN ENERGY' CAREERS

"SURGE OF COLLEGE STUDENTS PURSUING 'CLEAN ENERGY' CAREERSClimate change is
a concern among undergraduates, driving a surge of interest in science and
engineering on campuses nationwide.In what could be an encouraging sign of
change in the long-standing shortage of Americans preparing for ""clean
energy"" careers, the subject is suddenly hot on college campuses across the
nation -- a surge of interest largely stimulated by the specter of global
warming.Concern about climate change is galvanizing more undergraduate students to
turn toward a subject involving science and engineering, some educators
suggest, in much the same way that Moscow's launching of the Sputnik space
satellite jolted baby boomers to turn their eyes to the stars.What remains uncertain is whether their enthusiasm for renewable energy
will carry over into graduate school and lead them to swell the ranks of
Americans with advanced science and engineering degrees.""We have a shortfall of people to do cutting-edge research and do the
innovations we need,"" said Vijay K. Dhir, dean of the engineering school at
UCLA. But, he added, ""the potential is there.""The rising interest in renewable energy is so new that it's not clearly
reflected in the latest enrollment figures, educators say. But leaders from
a range of schools -- including Arizona State University, Indiana
University and the University of Colorado -- say energy and sustainability
are the hottest topic for their students.President Obama is mounting a multibillion-dollar push to boost ""clean
energy,"" in an attempt to create millions of jobs while focusing on the
environment. The effort includes stepped-up support for graduate students
doing research in the area.At the White House last week, Obama told a group of academics and energy
entrepreneurs that ""innovators like you are creating the jobs that will
foster our recovery.""The U.S. has struggled in the last two decades to produce enough home-grown
scientists and engineers to meet demand. Enrollment in graduate engineering
programs dropped more than 5% from 2003 to 2005, the last year for which
statistics are available. At the same time, rapidly developing countries
such as China and South Korea have ramped up such programs, both in size
and quality.Graduate science enrollment in the U.S. nearly doubled in the last two
decades. But the programs are now more than half-filled with foreign
students, who increasingly are leaving the country upon graduation.Aggravating the dearth of newly minted engineers, the rate at which
American workers with science and engineering skills retire is expected to
triple over the next decade.If that trend continues, ""the rapid growth in [research and development]
employment and spending that the United States has experienced since World
War II may not be sustainable,"" the National Science Board said in a 2008
report.Business leaders are equally blunt. ""The most critical challenge over the
long-term is people and brainpower,"" said Karen Harbert, executive vice
president and managing director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute
for 21st Century Energy.Obama hopes massive federal spending will help. His economic stimulus
package includes $20 billion to support basic and applied science research
-- much of it done by graduate students -- that could yield cheaper solar
cells, more efficient wind turbines and longer-lasting batteries. His
proposed federal budget seeks to triple the number of graduate research
fellowships.The increased interest among students reflects developments over the last
few years that have raised the profile of global warming. Climate change
was a prominent issue in the presidential campaign, with Obama and other
Democrats focusing heavily on it and Republicans joining in calling for
action. Even the Bush administration, which had previously downplayed
climate change, acknowledged the issue as important.The nation's economic problems may also be contributing to "