January/February 2010

Your Letters

The importance of a STEM workforce

I very much enjoyed the Workforce Development department (July InTech), "Engineering field has work to do." Students and parents also suffer under the misguided notion that majoring in a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) discipline prepares graduates only for a career as a scientist or an engineer. The reality is 86% of jobs in high growth industries over the next decade will require postsecondary education, and over 50% require a college degree in a STEM field. Additionally, even traditional non-science jobs will require a more robust understanding of basic science and technology, so people educated in any major will need to have a stronger grounding in STEM fields.

The statistics you note highlight that what is lacking in the U.S. is an appreciation of science and technology and its relevance to peoples' lives. The nation may need only so many Ph.D. educated research scientists and engineers, but there are really good, high-paying jobs in technology fields that go unfilled in this country because employers are having a difficult time finding well-prepared STEM-educated students to fill those positions as Bill Gates notes in several speeches and writings. And, the upcoming wave of retiring baby-boomers educated in STEM fields in the 1960s is lapping at the employment shore.

I am president of the only STEM-focused comprehensive university located between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. When Harrisburg University of Science and Technology was chartered in January 2005, it became the first of its kind in the Commonwealth in more than 100 years. Pennsylvania, a state often seen by many as behind the times, is now positioned nicely on the forefront of higher learning and strategic workforce development.

Although the idea of starting a university in a once predominantly blue collar city was at first greeted with skepticism by many in the community, Harrisburg University has grown a strong philanthropic base of supporters committed to investing in the school and the future prosperity of the region. We expect to exceed our initial campaign goal of raising $40 million.

In 1981, Harrisburg was listed as the second most distressed city in the nation, but in the past 27 years, it has positioned itself as an economic engine, lifting itself from post-industrial economic decline to knowledge-based producer. The capstone to the $2.65 billion in new investments made within the city since those dark days is Harrisburg University of Science and Technology. The University was founded in 2001 by a corps of committed business leaders to transform the state's capital city. They wanted to once again make it a desirable place to live and work as well as drive the region's economic development. They concluded this would happen only if Harrisburg had a university.

In 2000, while 83% of Harrisburg area residents had a high school degree, just 23% of them held a bachelor degree, and only 12% of those living in the region's cities had graduated from college.

Between 1970 and 2000, according to the U.S. Census, the region had lost more than 20% of its manufacturing jobs, while retail and service sector jobs had grown by 83% and 199%, respectively. The region had to find new strategies in order to compete in the knowledge-based economy.

At the time, Central Pennsylvania had 20, four-year colleges and universities that awarded 6,000 degrees annually to a population of 1.7 million. But less than one-third of those graduates had earned degrees in the science and technology fields that the region's businesses needed to make it a major participant in the knowledge-based economy. The idea that innovation will stay here if it starts here was a driving force in the creation of Harrisburg University of Science and Technology.

The public needs to wake up to the importance of a having a well-prepared STEM work force and how it impacts most jobs. We must continue to educate today's students in these important areas and raise awareness of the great careers that are available to people with strong STEM skills.

Dr. Mel Schiavelli

President, Harrisburg University of Science and Technology

St. Clair held in high regard

I enjoyed David W. St. Clair's article on Ziegler and Nichols (July's "The Final Say"). It pleased me to find out St. Clair actually had the opportunity to work with and to know these men.

Having started my career in the late 1980s, I had have held the opinion that those who cut their teeth in controls during the 1940s through 1960s had a much deeper understanding of control theory. I know of only one engineer, who worked for Chrysler during the development of the Saturn rockets, who actually practiced frequency response analysis.

I was given a paper copy of St. Clair's tuning handbook by my first supervisor. This was in the days before the Internet and e-mail, but unfortunately, after the advent of the thermal fax machine. As that print faded, I clung to that article, not realizing his name would one day be so well recognized. As I used that article to better understand the Z/N method (specifically the open loop method; really handy for those two-hour cycle times), I always reached for it when working with a junior engineers who, like I once was, were trying to get a better understanding of efficient tuning techniques. I can't count how many times I have recommended the handbook to younger engineers.

I guess we all go through the basics in linear systems and control theory in college, but for those of us whose careers are centered on chemical plants and refineries, the PID controller becomes one more function block to be configured. I have often wished for the time to take one loop, which is actually in service, and break it down into its characteristic equation, and use those techniques we learned in school, just to prove I CAN do it.
As I recall, the Z/N method was one paragraph in our controls text in college, and I only remembered it then because my professor had mentioned it in a sidebar discussion of what a practicing control system engineer could expect to see on the job.

It seems many engineers and maintenance techs that I have worked with tune by guessing, copying tuning from a similar loop (then guessing), or by using tuning software. I am grateful I was exposed to St. Clair's handbook, as it allows me to explain the method to the younger guys, so they have a better understanding of the subject.

He should realize that guys who came along when I did, hold St. Clair in that same high regard that he holds Misters Ziegler and Nichols.

Mark P. Hymel

Clement Control Systems, Inc.