“Knowledge drives innovation; innovation drives productivity; productivity drives our economic growth. That’s all there is to it.”
William R. Brody, U.S. Competitiveness: The Innovation Challenge, Testimony to the House Committee on Science, July 21, 2005.
Knowledge is information, skill, education and experience relating to a specific subject. Each generation adds to the collective and passes it on to the next generation. Innovation, the act of creating something new, is based on knowledge. The fields of medical science, engineering, agriculture, computing and energy have led to a higher standard of living for humans. Technological improvements are founded in knowledge and innovation.
How is knowledge and education beneficial to our regional economy? Education is the foundation for knowledge. Knowledge drives innovation, which in turn drives productivity. Productivity drives our economic growth. Although the connection might not be as self-evident as potatoes come from seeds, the Apollo program is an example of the education multiplier. The national drive to put man on the moon, led to the scientific innovation that has touched every aspect of our life.
We are fortunate to have Montana State University (MSU) as the cornerstone to our southwest Montana community. From the graduating class of each spring to the Bobcat football games most everyone in our community has a connection on some level. The future of MSU is secure, yet the opportunity exists to excel in the field of energy production, energy conservation and related technologies. These three areas have an unlimited potential for growth. As the United States increases in population and the existing global population strives to live at the standard of we enjoy there will be an ever-increasing amount of need for energy and energy efficiency.
For MSU to become a regional and national powerhouse in energy we need to focus on the students of tomorrow. The fifth grade children of today will be university juniors in a decade. By getting them excited in energy – be it coal, natural gas, oil, conservation, efficiency, thermal, wind or biomass we have the opportunity to start today. What motivates people, young or old? Incentive.
If MSU were to create an “Energy Scholarship” aimed at high school juniors and seniors we could be assured of attracting the best and brightest minds. Hear me out: each year MSU will award two full-ride undergraduate scholarships based on merit. The students will participate in a science project that is based quite simply on energy. Faculty and industry experts would judge students from our region on projects that they have invented. Be it a low cost solar water heater, efficiency designs for lawn mowers, insulation techniques for housing, outreach programs; any concept that targets energy and has the promise of innovation would be rewarded. These budding inventors would be students at MSU. Their ideas would lead to innovation and the sharing of knowledge. Within a ten-year time frame the students in this program will be nationally recognized for their contributions. Our goal of energy independent and becoming experts in the field of energy would be one step closer.
Imagine 400 hundred of our state’s brightest young students competing on a project that will benefit our nation and in turn our planet. This program, albeit ambitious, would be a tremendous benefit to our regional economy. We would be known throughout the world as the hotbed for energy innovation.
For the United States to continue its lead in the field of science we need to support education throughout the academic spectrum. From preschool to the post doctorate education is a sound investment in our economic wellbeing. It is possible and it’s at our fingertips.