There was no great surprise among the professors at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County (UMBC) when Benyam Kinde, an Ethiopian-American, was selected as the 2010 valedictorian. The biological studies major, who was born and brought up in southern California, was a perfect example of the type of students that are making their mark in the sciences on that campus and across the nation.
They are American-born, or sometimes naturalized, daughters and sons of the largest wave of foreign nationals to come to the United States since the earliest 20th century, and these young people will likely be the ones to push the accelerator on the study and application of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) nationwide.
The nonpartisan National Foundation for American Policy paints an optimistic picture for immigration reform and foresees an upgrade in American STEM scholarship, in a just-released study.
One example the report provides is stunning. At the 2011 Intel Science Talent Search competition, which is known as the "Junior Nobel Prize,” 70 percent of the finalists were the children of immigrants. That is despite the fact that only 12 percent of the U.S. population was born in another country.
It is also unsurprising that a wave of young Black people born of Caribbean, African and South American immigrant parents are applying to and being accepted by the nation’s best colleges and universities. Their parents, like the European immigrants of the past two centuries, are often the risk takers in their families and countries.
While some may be political refugees, most come in pursuit of the dream of economic or political freedom, and they often have an educational and professional background that exceeds that of native citizens. That is the case with UMBC’s Benyam Kinde. His father is a veterinarian and his mother is a math teacher.
Plus, it is a sterotype grounded in fact that the immigrant drive to succeed in America, where education and opportunity are available in a way that they were not in the old country, is a keen motivating factor.
The study concludes that “Liberalizing our nation’s immigration laws will likely yield even greater rewards for America in the future."
(Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)