The congressman met with students before touring the science center.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Colleges like Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts are critical to providing the nation with new ideas, especially in the engineering, said U.S. Rep. Richard Neal.
"I think MCLA plays a very important role ... successfully recruiting through higher ed more and more engineers," said the 1st Massachusetts representative.
He repeated some of the conversation he'd had earlier with students about technological pioneers Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, and what they'd been able to do in their garages. "We're going to show them what they want," he quoted Jobs as saying.
"That's what happens in a classroom like this," said Neal, knocking on desk in the new science center auditorium.
The Democratic congressman was given a walk-through of the completed Feigenbaum Center for Science and Innovation on Friday morning. It was the first time Neal had visited the completed center after taking a hard-hat tour nearly a year ago.
"I was here when the building was being constructed and seeing the final product is very encouraging," said Neal, adding, "I want to make sure the federal government maintains its partnership, particularly with public institutions, but also to not to miss the point that's here, where we're standing, to recruiting more young men and women to science and math ... engineering is very important components of America's economic growth."
The congressman gave a civics lesson in professor Ben Taylor's government class before meeting with students in the Travel Experience course. It was a chance, he said, to speak with students from a variety of disciplines.
"There was a nice balance on campus here today," he said. "I got a chance to talk with students studying American government and spent time with students who were aspiring artists ... and members of the environmental community and now with scientists."
That, said Neal, was the mission of a liberal arts college in bringing different disciplines together as well as providing a focus on the sciences.
"They have the same aspirations that young people across America have ... It's important to have a dream, to have a plan and that's where MCLA comes in," he said, warning that economic globalization is not going to retreat.
"I think that understanding that the role of competition [in] what's coming is critical and I think young people need to be better equipped all the time for the challenges that are coming about," said Neal.
The congressman also offered some opinions on recent issues, including President Obama's signing of a long-delayed farm bill that had been held up by debates over agricultural subsidies and food programs.
"I think cutting back on the direct payments was the right thing," he said, particularly since large agribusiness ventures were getting most of the benefits. "I think it'd become a bonanza in some parts of the country."
He doesn't like the cutbacks in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families — the bill cuts food stamps by $8 billion over the next decade.
"It could have been more balanced," he said. "But after two years, two years of acrimony over the farm bill, at least there is a final product."
The latest unemployment rate of 6.6 percent is not an accurate description, he said, because there are people still unable to find work after three or more years who need help.
"It is money that is readily spent in markets the day the check arrives," said Neal. "So I think that sophisticated economists will look at the use of unemployment insurance and they would understand very quickly that the people who are unemployed spend the money — people who are very wealthy tend to save their money."
MCLA President Mary Grant said students got to question the congressman on health care, funding for the arts and environmental concerns. What he sees here translates into the work he does in Washington, D.C., for quality higher education, she said.
"So for him to hear that we have a generation of students who are paying careful attention, who are civically engaged, who are well prepared, that's a good discussion," said Grant.
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