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Darpa Chief: Fix America’s Critical Geek Shortage
Darpa Chief: Fix America’s Critical Geek Shortage

Since her appointment as Darpa chief last June, Regina Dugan has kept a low profile, at least compared to long-serving predecessor Tony Tether. Now, a year after taking the top job at Darpa, Dugan’s finally talking. In a statement last week [.pdf] to the House Armed Service Committee’s panel on terrorism, unconventional threats and capabilities, Dugan outlined her vision for the future of the Pentagon’s blue-sky research arm, with everything from plant-based vaccines to biomimetics making the short list. But none of it’s possible, she told the panel, without more investment in American universities and industry to cultivate the techies of the future.
Or as Dugan herself put it, Darpa needs more troops for its “elite army of futuristic technogeeks.”
The agency first took note of America’s looming shortage in computing, science and tech experts in January, when the agency requested proposals that would attract more teens to careers in the field. The agency then suggested tactics like career days, mentorships and more scholarship money to get the job done. Dugan, however, is touting flashier options. “Box O’ Radar,” for one, would give kids the chance to build and test their own radar devices. Or, she told the panel, we could turn teens into app-making machines.
“Additional ideas included the development of an application ‘marketplace’ devoted to STEM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics] that would post challenges such as ‘apps to teach electronics’ or ‘apps to teach radar’ or just ‘coolest app with a practical use,’” she said. “Prizes might range from iPods to scholarships.”
The geek-recruitment schemes were just a few of the ideas tossed around at Darpa’s recent Industry Summit — a meeting between Darpa managers and 120 American industry heads that Dugan said was meant “to engage the leadership of US industry.”

Dugan might be most concerned about the disengagement between her agency and American colleges. Between 2001 and 2008, Darpa’s funding to research schools was cut in half. Less funding meant fewer graduate students: Combined with a 43 percent decrease in computing and science enrollment among undergrads, that’s a geek shortage in the making.
But Dugan, a former Darpa program manager and the co-founder of a niche investment firm, is hoping to rectify the problem. “Last September I traveled to five universities — Texas A&M, Caltech, UCLA, Stanford and Berkeley — to meet faculty, deans, and presidents, graduate students and undergraduates,” she said. “We asked for their renewed commitment … for university leaders to clear obstacles and encourage their best and brightest to serve in government.”

[Magda: I would suggest that DPF acquire and install a primal scream button to the website, or at least the related emoticon.]
"Where is the intersection between the world's deep hunger and your deep gladness?"

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