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Article of Interest - Culture & Education

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Bridges4Kids LogoImmigrants' Kids: Nation's Brainy Superstars
by Scott Stephens, Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 20, 2004
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Give us your tired, your poor . . . your scientists and your mathematicians.

The children of immigrants are becoming the top math and science students in the United States, dominating academic competitions and representing the strongest hope the nation has of keeping an edge in high-tech and biomedical fields, according to a study released Monday.

The National Foundation for American Policy, based in Arlington, Va., found that foreign-born professionals and students are contributing more to American society than first thought, and that their children are the nation's rising intellectual superstars.

"If opponents of immigration had succeeded over the past 20 years, two-thirds of the most outstanding future American scientists and mathematicians would not be here today because U.S. policy would have barred their parents from entering the United States," NFAP Executive Director Stuart Anderson, who authored the report, said at a news conference.

The study found, for example, that 60 percent of the finalists in the 2004 Intel Science Talent Search, 65 percent of the U.S. Math Olympiad's top scorers and 46 percent of the U.S. Physics Team members are children of immigrants.

One of the members of this year's physics squad is Elena Udovina, 18, of Solon.

The Hathaway Brown graduate was 12 when she came to the United States from Russia.

In 2003, three of the top four Intel awardees were foreign-born.

In many ways, those young math and science whizzes are simply following their elders. Today, more than 50 percent of the engineers with doctorates working in the United States are foreign-born, and 45 percent of the math and computer scientists with doctorates were born outside the country, the study found.

The findings were of no surprise to Jeanette Grasselli Brown. Brown, a member of the Ohio Board of Regents, was the daughter of Hungarian immigrants who settled in Cleveland. She earned a chemistry degree from Ohio University before going to work for the Standard Oil Co. (Ohio), later BP America. She retired from the company as director of corporate research.

"They get it," she said of the respect immigrants have for education. "In my family, it was simply a mantra. There was no discussion about it. I think that mentality still exists."

That mantra is firmly in place in the household of Taiwanese immigrants Ching-Chih and Meei-Ling Lee. The Hudson couple came to the United States in the early 1980s to pursue graduate degrees at the University of Illinois.

This fall, their son, Benjamin Lee, will begin his first semester at Harvard University. The Hudson High School graduate, one of The Plain Dealer's top 10 Senior Standouts, ranked first in his class and had a perfect SAT score.

His mother, Meei-Ling Lee, said the family's emphasis on education was nothing unusual for immigrant families.

"We ask our children to be hard-working and appreciate all the opportunities given to them," she said. "It's really a gift from God."

    

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