[Homestead] Educational success of immigrant children outstanding

Tvoivozhd tvoivozd at infionline.net
Mon Sep 6 18:15:23 EDT 2004

Learning <http://www.csmonitor.com/learning/index.html>
from the August 31, 2004 edition

HIGH ACHIEVERS: The finalists of Intel Corporation's Science Talent 
Search posed with President Bush in the Rose Garden of the White House 
earlier this year. Of the top 40 finalists, 60 percent were the children 
of immigrants.

Immigrants' children ace sciences
By Amanda Paulson 
| Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
Enrico Fermi, Albert Einstein, John von Neumann, Niels Bohr: The legacy 
of foreign-born scientists and mathematicians in America is well known.

They helped create the computer and the atom bomb, and have contributed 
a good portion of America's Nobel Prizes. Today, more than half of all 
engineers with PhDs working here were born abroad, as were 45 percent of 
computer scientists and physicists with doctorates.

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But according to a recent study, there's another, less documented 
benefit that many immigrants bring to math and science in this country: 
their children. While doing some research on the Intel Science Talent 
Search (the "Junior Nobel Prize"), Stuart Anderson noticed a high number 
of finalists who seemed to have recent immigrant roots.

When the director of the National Foundation for American Policy delved 
deeper, the results were even more striking. Seven of the Top 10 award 
winners in this year's contest were immigrants or their children. Of the 
top 40 finalists, 60 percent were the children of immigrants. And a 
striking number had parents who had arrived on skilled employment, or 
H-1B, visas.

"The study indicates there are significant gains to immigration that 
haven't really been realized," says Mr. Anderson.

"There's been controversy over employment-based immigration, but if we 
had blocked these people from coming in, two-thirds of the top future of 
math and science wouldn't be here, because we wouldn't have allowed 
their parents in."

It's no surprise to most people who follow such high-level competitions, 
of course, that children of immigrants are well represented there, but 
even participants say they are surprised at just how significant the 
trend is.

"It seems like a lot of the parents who are immigrants, they've just had 
to work a lot harder to get where they are right now," says Divya 
Nettimi, a finalist in Intel whose research on the molecular compound 
myosin furthered the understanding of muscle contractions. "In India, 
such a huge focus is placed on education, because jobs are so scarce 
that it's a question of survival."

Her parents, both software engineers, came to the US from India when 
Divya was 9 months old, in large part because they wanted more 
opportunities for their children.

Anderson says immigrant parents view the science and math fields as good 
for their children because they're objective. "You don't have to worry 
about the subjectivity that can creep into fields like politics, or law, 
that are based on family connections or what you look like," he says.

There's also the fact that many of the parents themselves are working in 
those fields. In fact, the numbers that arrived on the professional H-1B 
visas is strikingly high. Of the 40 Intel finalists, for instance, 18 
had parents who came on an H-1B visa - more than the 16 finalists who 
had American-born parents.

The visas are a political hot potato, however. Between the security 
concerns after 9/11 and economic concerns during the recession, there's 
been significant pressure to reduce immigration and tighten the 
visa-granting process.

A National Science Foundation report issued this year noted that denial 
of high-skilled visa applications nearly doubled from 2001 to 2003, and 
universities have said fewer foreign students are applying.

The report also gave a stark warning about how the future of US 
dominance in research and development could be affected if the country 
continues to lag behind in educating its own citizens in the sciences. 
And this spring, 25 academic and scientific organizations, including the 
National Academy of Sciences and the Association of American 
Universities, issued a joint statement about the need for changes to the 
granting of visas.

So far, however, the discussion has centered only on the immigrants 
themselves - not their children. Yet the notion that many of these 
children are successful has been established for some time, says Marcelo 
Súarez-Orozco, codirector of immigration studies at New York University.

What's striking about the data, he says, is how "bimodal" it is, with 
immigrants' children trending toward both ends of the spectrum. Studies 
have shown that today, they're more likely than ever to end up at places 
like Princeton, or Harvard, or MIT.

"But at the other end of this distribution, there are large numbers that 
are struggling," says Dr. Súarez-Orozco. Immigrant children arrive with 
an edge over their American counterparts, Súarez-Orozco says, but "over 
time there is a relative decline in terms of optimism and energy."

Among the top students that Anderson looked at, however, that optimism 
and energy are still very much in evidence.

Andrei Munteanu - whose parents came from Romania when he was 13, and 
who got the idea for his research on data to predict asteroid collisions 
from watching the movie "Armageddon" - is excited about starting classes 
at Harvard, which he chose over MIT because he "likes other things" in 
addition to math and science. Like Divya, he credits his parents with a 
lot of his success. "They gave me not pressure," he says, "but 


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