Sac State dean invited to discussion at White House

Camille Anglo

Sacramento State’s Dean of engineering and computer science Emir Macari visited the White House Feb. 8 and met with President Barack Obama to discuss the importance of engineering education to revitalize the economy.

Macari, who is also a part of the executive board of the public policy committee of the American Society for Engineering Education, was in Washington D.C. with the organization when he received the invite to the White House.

“You don’t always get invited to the White House everyday. It was a wonderful opportunity,” Macari said.

Macari said he did not expect Obama to be present at the event until he entered the conference room and saw the presidential seal on the podium.

“There were about 30 people there and I got to be very, very close to the front,” Macari said. “I just had a feeling the president would show up anytime and sure enough, when the CEO of Intel was speaking, suddenly the president came in from a door in the back and addressed us directly on why engineering education is so important.”

Along with UCLA, University of Southern California, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and San Jose State University, Macari was one of the deans representing the California college system.

“We were about 25 deans of engineering from across the country. I was lucky to be one of the 25 chosen to be invited,” Macari said. “I met with Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and I met with CEO of Intel Paul Otellini. I also got to chat briefly with Obama after his remarks.”

This is the third time Macari has met with Obama. Macari had a memorable first meeting with him in 2009 when Macari’s Jerry Garcia tie caught the president’s eye.

“(The president) was shaking hands and he came to me and pointed at my tie and asked ‘Is that a Jerry Garcia tie?’ and I said “Yes, Mr. President’,” Macari said. “I thought I should’ve had my Jerry Garcia tie with me this time and given it to him.”

The event, “Celebrating Excellence in Colleges of Engineering,” was a call to inform college educators in engineering why more graduates in the field will help renovate the economy with more American manufactured products.

“Unfortunately nowadays, we don’t manufacture much in the U.S. because it’s so cheap to manufacture abroad, but the president is calling for more manufacturing in the U.S. so that we can fill a lot of middle-class jobs and a lot of high paying technical jobs,” Macari said. “We’re trying to address these problems and that’s why the president was meeting with us.”

Norman Fortenberry, the executive director of the American Society of Engineering Education, said engineering is vital because innovation is what makes our economy.

“The economy depends on, by and large, making things, providing services and engaging processes,” Fortenberry said. “By the way I define engineering, it is ultimately involved in all those things. Engineering underlies what is our economy: products, processes and services.”

Fifth-year Sac State mechanical engineering and physics student Robby Beard said he is proud Macari spoke on behalf of Sac State’s engineering department. He said he hopes the visit helped emphasize the need for science education and strengthen America’s industrial enterprise.

“I am very concerned as to how America has been in huge decline compared to the rest of the world in science education, whereas 30 years ago we were at the top,” Beard said. “I feel this is a problem because not enough people realize that it is the scientists and engineers who create jobs, by inventing new products.”

If there are more engineering students graduating and creating new products, then it would help stimulate job creation, Beard said.

“Making new products means that jobs will be created based on the need to design, process, build and sell the new product,” Beard said. “One single new invention could mean at least tens of thousands of jobs alone.”

One of the solutions discussed at the event is “Stay With It,” a nationwide initiative featuring many Hollywood personalities and Nobel Peace Prize winners. The event will discuss why the country needs engineers and will encourage engineering students to keep working hard and to stick with the program. “Stay With It” will be simulcast on MTV and streamed on Facebook March 14 from Georgia Institute of Technology and at the Alumni Center on campus.

“I really want our students to go in there and get motivated and get the message that it isn’t easy to become an engineer,” Macari said. “You can work very hard for four years and struggle, but after four years, you are going to have a lifetime of rewards, good job opportunities, become a pillar of your community.”

Cultivating more students in the engineering and computer science field is necessary because both careers could use more students, Fortenberry said.

“I don’t think we have enough students studying engineering,” Fortenberry said. “I think it’s true whether they wish to be engineers or apply an engineering way of thinking into a variety of career fields.”

Engineering is important because not only does it help to develop a more stable economy, but it puts people as its main priority, Macari said.

“The most important part about engineering is not necessarily that we’re geeks with the typical pocket protector and pens in there, although we have a little of everything in our profession,” Macari said. “It is that it is a people-serving profession. What we do with our technological advances, with our application of mathematics, physics or science in general for people is what makes an engineer become a pillar of society.”

Camille Anglo can be reached at [email protected].