Remarks by Vice President Harris in a Discussion with STEM Students at Hampton University
12:00 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Vince. Well, it is an honor to be here at Hampton University with all of you.
I want to thank the President who — Dr. William Harvey, who warmly greeted us on our arrival.
Congresswoman Luria, thank you for your leadership, for Hampton, for HBCUs, for the state of Virginia, and for our country.
Mayor, thank you for the warm welcome as well and for all the work that you have done.
I also want to thank Chairman Bobby Scott, the congressman who represents Virginia. He is a huge supporter of our HBCUs and actually is in a committee hearing, I believe today, advocating for the infrastructure bill that we are proposing. And that includes a significant contribution that we intend to make to our HBCUs around infrastructure, as well as research.
I believe we are at the beginning of a new era. I believe that we, in this new era, are more interconnected and interdependent than ever before, as highlighted by the things that you, as our young — our nation’s young leaders have witnessed in just this last year and a half.
We’ve seen a pandemic, which has really emphasized the significance of our mutual investment in the issue of global health. We have seen cyberattacks, which tells us the role and the use of technology not only for good, as we know it in our everyday lives, but can be weaponized.
We know it when we think about climate and the extreme weather we’ve been experiencing — Ida — in terms of the hurricanes; the floods that have happened; in my home state of California, the wildfires. We used to refer to “wildfire season.” We don’t do that anymore. It’s all — year-round.
You all are the leaders in this new era because, in particular, our nation and our world will require the smart people that you are to lead on issues that require dedication, and a development of skills around science and technology and engineering and math.
And Hampton University is one of the leaders — I say, as a Howard graduate. (Laughs.) Couldn’t let that go, guys. (Laughs.) I say that knowing, as Vice President, what you’re doing here at Hampton University: The partnership between Hampton and NASA — the fact that, I believe, there are four satellites because of Hampton that are right now orbiting, giving us valuable — invaluable information that allows us to not only predict, but to analyze what is happening in our world and in our — and atmosphere.
This is extraordinary work that is happening. And I’m here to say, as Vice President of the United States, that our HBCUs are some of the great leaders in this vital work that must happen in the new era that not only is an era for our country, but for the world.
So I’m very proud to be here. And I think about the world — of the challenges, but I think about it in the context of HBCUs. And I am reminded Hampton University educated Mary Jackson — NASA’s first Black female engineer. It is from Hampton University that we have Dr. Cooper, who is working on the current Mars mission at NASA right now.
Today, Hampton is the first and only HBCU to fully control a NASA mission. I was just upstairs getting the most recent information on the AIM Satellite, as an example.
And so, when we talk about the role of HBCUs on this issue, let’s be very clear that HBCUs are not only competing; HBCUs are leading. And it is for that reason that it is in the best interest of our nation, including our national security, to invest in our HBCUs. So, that’s why I’m here today, including the fact that this is a week that most of us — year-round, but this week — formally celebrate the role of our HBCUs in our nation.
So, the agenda for the President and me includes not only doing everything we can to lift up our HBCUs, but to know that if we are to invest in the strength of our nation, we must invest in our HBCUs. And that is why, through our Build Back agenda, that we are making a historic investment in research and development.
One of the things that you all know is that, historically, our HBCUs have done extraordinary research work. But over the years, some of the facilities have experienced the wear and tear, and we need to invest in allowing our HBCUs to do what all universities should have the ability to do, all education facilities should have the ability to do, which is to upgrade.
I was upstairs, on the roof, admiring that impressive telescope. And one of the points that was made by the professor is that as technology evolves, pieces get smaller, they get less expensive. It makes it more easy for HBCUs to adapt to, then, the new technology and to bring it in, but they need the support. So that’s the other point of our emphasis.
And then, the point also is about the impact on all of this on our economy. Right? So the demand for STEM workers is high throughout our nation and, frankly, throughout the world. STEM occupations are expected to grow at twice the rate of all other occupations in the next decade.
For women in the workforce, for women of color in particular — for Black women — STEM careers will help narrow the pay gap. And we must ensure that all people are represented in the fields of STEM.
And I’m reminded and think of, for example, the issue of what I call “machine learning” — AI — and what that means. Because artificial intelligence is fueling so much of how our systems are analyzing information.
But understand: Artificial intelligence is, at its core, machine learning. What do we know about any kind of learning? What you learn will likely be a function of who’s teaching you
and what their life experience and perspective is.
So, we want to make sure that in this era, where AI is informing so many decisions, that the people who are teaching the machines represent the full gamut of those who will be affected by what the machines decide to do.
So all of these are critical and important aspects of why I am here today and why the work here at Hampton University, and at so many of our HBCUs, is critically important to all people in our country.
And the last point I will make is that, for me, at the core of this is also the importance of self-determination, understanding that this is about ensuring that when we invest in our HBCUs, that we have full participation in our society and in these systems that have an impact on a broad range of people.
And that is why the dedication and the investment of our administration and all people should understand the significance of our HBCUs.
So with that, I am so happy and proud to be with these leaders — with these young leaders. And, Vincent, why don’t we start our discussion.
(The roundtable discussion begins.)
(The roundtable discussion concludes.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, again, I think it’s very important that we highlight in a way that each of you leaders and young leaders has done today, and the role of our nation’s HBCUs, and the biggest issues that challenge our nation and the globe, historic role that our HBCUs have played, and the current role — and the current role in terms of producing the leaders that are prepared to take on this new era and emerging challenges for which we may not have been prepared and certainly for which we need to develop the skillsets to figure out the solutions to the challenges we face. And our HBCUs play a critical role in that work.
And this in-depth conversation, I think, highlights, without any question, the role of our graduates of HBCUs — and, therefore, the HBCUs that challenge and educate them — to our nation’s security — we talked about DOD; to our nation’s development; to our nation’s — we talked about the global impact, partnerships around the world.
And so I want to thank you all for the representation that you have provided today about the role of our HBCUs — again, historically, presently, and in the future.
Thank you all very much.
12:46 P.M. EDT