Intel CEO Offers View on American Math and Science

“We created our own brain drain.”


THE UNITED STATES is rapidly falling behind Asian countries in technology development, but it’s a problem largely of our own making, said Paul Otellini, president and CEO of Intel Corp. and a 1972 graduate of the University of San Francisco. His remarks were part of a Nov. 26 “Intel in Asia” conversation sponsored by USF’s Center for the Pacific Rim.

“I think the U.S. pulled the plug on the brain sink years ago,” said Otellini, who joined Intel in 1974 and worked his way up to the role of CEO in 2005. “We created our own brain drain.”

That’s not to say that Otellini is dismissive of American attempts at math and science. In fact, he’s a strong believer in American creativity, ingenuity, and innovation—American students who do study and actively pursue math and science-related fields are some of the best and brightest he has seen. There just aren’t enough of them, he said.

Few children are being encouraged to pursue careers in math and science, he said, and those fields are not taught very well in the K-12 education system. American graduate schools in those areas, however, are the best in the world, Otellini said. Yet with so few American students pursuing those fields, at least half the seats in those graduate programs are filled by students from other countries. That’s not a bad thing, he said, but many end up returning home after earning their degrees because they cannot obtain visas to stay.

Otellini does see one bright spot—the increasing interest in environmental activism. He hopes that helps awaken an overall interest in the sciences in today’s children just as Sputnik and space exploration did for a previous generation.

Like many other companies, Intel has recognized the promise of Asian countries when it comes to math and science and invested accordingly. Intel established its first assembly and testing facility in China in 1996 and now has three factories there. India is home to Intel’s largest non-manufacturing site outside the U.S., and the company announced in 2006 that it will invest $1 billion in the largest single factory within the Intel network in Vietnam. By investing in these countries, Otellini said, Intel is not furthering an American brain drain, but rather going where the resources are—in this case, highly trained people who want jobs in those fields.

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