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Dr. Wallace Loh’s Keynote Speech at the 2011 CAPA Annual Symposium
– By Edward Wan



One of the highlights of the 2011 CAPA Annual Symposium held on September 24 was the keynote speech delivered by Dr. Wallace Loh -- the first Chinese American who serves as the President of the University of Maryland in the school’s 155-year history.


Dr. Loh’s speech was entitled “The American Research University – Winning the Future in a Globalized World”.  His half-hour speech was succinct and full of profound meaning.  Due to the increasing challenges of globalization, the American has gradually lost the supremacy in education.  He reiterated the fundamental value of education in shaping a person’s life.  Americans must catch up with the rest of the world in terms of science and engineering education.  He also stressed that investing in higher education and encouraging innovation and research are the keys for the United States to win the future in a globalized world. 

Dr. Loh just returned from a visit abroad. When the passenger next to him on the plane asked him, "What business are you in?” Dr. Loh replied, "I am engaged in the immortal business”. He further explained that he is not a preacher, but he is engaged in education by transferring passion, values, and knowledge to people and building the future for the next generation.


He considered himself privileged to be in the position of leading the University of Maryland.  Established in 1854, the University of Maryland has grown from a small agricultural college with 13 students to a major public research university in the US with 38,000 students and 9 colleges. The incoming class of students has a grade point average of 3.9 and average SAT score of 1300.  The professors and staff generated half billion dollars in research grants. For every dollar that the state invested in the university, the university staff generated $3 research dollars.  All together the university generated $8 billion in revenue last year.  The university is a regional economic engine and keeps the economic development in the state of Maryland. When President Lincoln first proposed the founding of the land-grant university, he had a vision that one day the university will engage in teaching, research, and leading the economic development activities.


Dr. Loh mentioned that 40% of Americans have a college degree, and this proportion has not changed for decades.  He agreed with President Obama about the need to strengthen higher education in the next decade, so that the population with a college education will increase to 55 percent in the next 10 years.  But US education is lacking behind many other countries.  For example, US Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) education ranks 27 in the world.  Korea has only 1/6 of the US population but produces as many engineers as the US.  How many US students are taking Calculus when compared with those students in Asia?  We Americans need to out-educate, out- innovate the rest of the world in order to regain supremacy.  He hopes the US Government will take the lead in providing educational subsidies and emphasizing education in science, engineering, and scientific research.


Three weeks ago, he sat down with the Director of the National Science Foundation, Dr. Subu Suresh.  Dr. Suresh graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology at Madras.  Out of 175 graduates in his class, 150 came to the US to seek graduate studies, whereas today only 35 students came to the US. The message is loud and clear in that the rest of world is catching up!  The annual budge t for NSF is about $80 billion, and Congress is seeking to cut its budget by 2.5%.  This is about $220 per person per year when compared with $2,600 per person per year for social security and $3,000 per person year for the defense budget.  It is no question that many Americans believe that the country has to take the lead in the science and technology area; the question is whether we have the resolve to do it.  He said his personal story to rise from a poor foreign student to become the leader of a major American university is a story of the American dream.  Only in America, you can fulfill such dream.


There is a prominent economist at the University of Maryland, who had studied the 7,000 years of economic history of human civilization.  The economist concluded that the financial or banking crisis in the US would take more than 10 years to recover.  We are in the crisis with a flattening budget and period of stagnation.  We have a hard choice.  We must invest in science education.  As you all know, the mascot of the University of Maryland is the terrapin.  Terrapin is a special kind of turtle living in the Chesapeake Bay.  They can only go forward and can’t go sideways.

Like terrapins, America needs to go forward.  Dr. Loh concluded that we have to aim high in order to win the battle in a globalized World.