The National Summit: shaping an agenda for America in challenging times


MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon at the National Summit.

This week I’m in Detroit with my University Research Corridor colleagues and top business executives from around the country, working to shape a national agenda for the economic challenges our country is facing.

The National Summit, organized by the Detroit Economic Club and running June 15–17, is bringing us together to focus on transformational change in manufacturing, technology, the environment, and energy. I’ll join some 70 featured speakers and panel participants, including the heads of auto companies, Microsoft Corp., and Dow Chemical Co. and the newly appointed chief technology officer of the United States.

It’s an impressive gathering, but I’m particularly gratified that student participation will be a substantial part of it. I’ll be joined by students from the Spotlight Michigan project, a student-developed entrepreneurship support program that sprang from a James Madison College seminar; several business students; and some of our Society of Automotive Engineers Formula Racing Team members. We’re proud of our students, and this very engaged group will have the opportunity to do some high-level networking.

On June 17, I’ll be participating in a panel discussing challenges in managing and developing talent in the knowledge-based world economy. I’ll be sharing how what we do at Michigan State is about building capacity to apply knowledge now and to innovate in the future.

For our students, we’re focused not just on immediate career preparation, but also on building a skill set that helps them manage the inevitable changes they’ll face as global economics and technology continue to change the game. Service-learning and other experiential learning opportunities abound in our colleges, and these foster the ability to learn in a variety of settings and in multiple ways. In the 21st century, we all need to be active thinkers who can analyze trends and frequently chart a new course for ourselves, our organizations, and our communities.

But Michigan State doesn’t just develop capacity in our students. We develop it in communities locally and globally, democratizing knowledge so that we drive talent development and innovation far beyond the borders of our campus.

While I’m confident in the abilities of our graduates and proud of the knowledge and capacity we develop in communities, I am concerned that America is starting to fall behind. In many countries, educational attainment is surging ahead of that in the United States. This is troubling because the evidence is clear that economic prosperity and quality of life are linked to educational attainment.

Many of our citizens already face starkly narrowing job opportunities, and the message I’m sending at the National Summit is that to maintain or broaden opportunities, workers must be lifelong learners and have access to the resources that will allow them to do that. Twenty-first-century workers—and America—will compete in this global, knowledge-based economy only if education is a dynamic part of American culture.

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