When US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker sat down with MIT President L. Rafael Reif on Sept. 18, she elaborated on the connections between American’s success as innovators and entrepreneurs and national topics such as immigration, broadband access, and advanced manufacturing.
Pritzker, who has visited MIT labs and leaders several times during her two-year tenure, leads the Administration’s trade and investment promotion efforts. She has met with more than 1,500 business leaders to support new avenues for growth and traveled to 29 countries building new markets for US products. She addressed a campus audience at the Koch Institute before the armchair discussion with President Reif.
She sees immigration as a cornerstone of future innovation because some 40 percent of graduate students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields at US universities are international and often are forced to leave after they complete their educations.
“Advancing immigration reform is not just a moral obligation, it is a matter of economic necessity,” she says. “We should not be educating these young people then requiring them to return home. We should be stapling a green card to their diploma when they graduate.”
Pritzker has worked with Reif in his role as co-chair of the White House’s Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP) 2.0 and has supported advanced manufacturing with the creation of institutes focused on pre-competitive research in new technologies like 3D printing, photonics, digital design, and lightweight metals. Her department also issues patents, supports young entrepreneurs, and has launched Regional Innovation Strategy grants to build capacity in communities nationwide.
On Friday she visited the Research Laboratory for Electronics (RLE), which was founded in 1946 as the successor to the famed MIT Radiation Laboratory (RadLab) of World War II and today leads research on topics as diverse as atomic physics and information science.
“I learned about a graduate research assistant named Robert Noyce, who worked in the lab’s Physical Electronics Group—and who used the knowledge gained here at MIT to co-found Intel. I heard about a young professor named Amar Bose, who studied physical acoustics at RLE—and who went on to revolutionize the way we listen to music.”
Along with the innovation and science involved, Pritzker says she was also impressed with the dynamic research teams who are multigenerational and multicultural. “We need the insights from all these people to make these quantum leaps forward.”