The state of high technology

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When the average, non-engineer-type person thinks about high technology, most likely what first comes to mind are computers, software products and cell phones. However, the meaning of high technology in the 21st century is wide open, from the Internet to biotechnology to microelectronics, and Mike Semmens believes the possibilities are endless as long as the United States continues to maintain its technological lead.

“What I am seeing today with the advent of technology is breathless,” Semmens said.

Semmens is a former manager and chief executive officer of several hi-tech companies and owns the Semmens Group LLC, a technology and finance management and consulting company. Semmens also helps budding entrepreneurs secure venture capital funding. Although the hi-tech industry was hit hard during the last few years by the dotcom bust, September 11 and stock market fluctuations, bright design engineers have continued to advance mechanical systems, especially in areas such as health care and small circuitry.

Semmens said microtechnology and nanotechnology – small to smaller – are driving high technology and the economy. Micro devices are in demand, Semmens said, and designing for performance and convenience is a critical function of high technology today. Semmens said computers that fit in the palm of a person’s hand are an example of what is to come.

“The new miniature technology will open up a need for the people who write the software,” Semmens said. “Software applications, which have always been a support capability, will continue to evolve. As technology goes smaller, the materials will be less costly, too.”

Health-related high technology is booming, and nanotechnology or microtechnology will take us to new heights, Semmens said, citing examples such as a microchip implant that connects to a digital camera in someone’s eyeglasses, helping people who suffer from macular degeneration.

An aging population will have more options available to live independently. “An 87-year-old person who lives alone can be implanted with a permanent, wireless, low-power micro chip that communicates or transmits medical data to someone’s cell phone,” Semmens said. “The opportunities are limitless, and part of what we have to do is take this technology and move toward good commerce to stay competitive. The future of the economy is dependent on the ability to address new technology, and I think a few people in Colorado Springs became discouraged with high tech because of our recent losses, but now is the time to say that we are the technology center of the world.”

However, if the Springs is going to compete as a technology hub, Semmens said there must be more emphasis on education locally and nationally.

“When I was in school at Colorado State, I would walk through the A wing (technology area) and never hear a word of English, and that was 30 years ago,” Semmens said. “While our universities are developing more attorneys and accountants, foreign governments are sending their students here for high-tech training.”

Semmens said engineering and science programs – labs and equipment – are costly to universities. “Universities make a higher profit on a non-scientific project – there is no money made on an engineering program,” Semmens said.

The development of hi-tech engineers starts at the elementary school level, but Semmens said some schools fall short of teaching appropriate math and science skills. “When we were in Texas, my children attended the best high school in Texas, but the math curriculum was terrible,” Semmens said. “We must have intellectual know-how to stay in the lead.”

The good thing, Semmens said, is that higher education, such as the Colorado University system, is sponsoring programs that support of K-12 math and science curriculums.

Corporations, such as Intel, are ensuring a future work force by assisting the universities and sponsoring programs that promote technological.

Judy Cara is the community relations manager for Intel in Colorado Springs. Intel piloted a program with the Girl Scouts a few years ago called Design and Discovery, and it has blossomed into an Internet-based program where students ages 11 through 14 and their teachers are introduced to engineering through a sequence of 18 hands-on sessions.

Intel also sponsors, through partnerships with local school districts, the “Cyberchase” public television series that helps elementary schoolchildren develop and maintain an interest in math.

“One of the goals of the educational programs we fund is to create a pipeline of kids for the future,” Cara said. “If you don’t get them involved in math and science in middle school, they won’t go on assuming an interest. If they do get involved, the natural progression is to be interested in high school and perhaps college.”

Intel sponsors Project Lead the Way, a national program geared to increasing the quality of engineers graduating from the educational system through early learning experiences, in local schools.

During February’s National Engineers Week, Intel employees went to elementary schools and taught the youngsters about engineering. “Many of the elementary-level kids don’t often have a clue about engineering,” Cara said. “The kids still think engineers run trains.”

Intel also sponsors workshops for high school counselors. “We don’t want the kids falling into stereotypical careers – girls into nursing and boys into engineering,” Cara said. “This field is open to everyone.”

Cara said Intel is collaborating with the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs to develop an outreach program to K-12 students. It is all about forging strong relationships with school districts and colleges to encourage internships for engineering scholarship programs, Cara said.

“It is a work force development tool to get that stream of kids coming up through the ranks, and it is in our best interest the kids have the right interest for the available jobs,” Cara said.

Semmens said high technological advancement means everyone must adopt a life-long learning process, and, if that happens, Semmens and Cara agreed that high technology will provide secondary and skilled-labor positions while maintaining a positive influence on the economy as a whole.