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Congresswoman Debbie Dingell

Representing the 12th District of Michigan

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MLive: Dingell says research grants for younger students, visa reform critical for innovation

May 20, 2016
In The News

ANN ARBOR, MI — The University of Michigan and Ann Arbor businesses are at the forefront of innovation, says U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, but lawmakers must make comprehensive reforms and invest more in research if they want them to succeed.

That's what Dingell, D-Dearborn, said after an Innovation Agenda 2.0 roundtable discussion with other lawmakers and local business leaders at the Ann Arbor SPARK offices on Liberty Street in downtown Ann Arbor on Friday.

Other lawmakers in attendance included U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and U.S. Rep. Mark DeSaulnier of California.

Dingell spoke briefly to The Ann Arbor News during a press conference afterward. Members of the media were not invited to attend the roundtable discussion.

Among the myriad issues facing universities and tech companies, Dingell said, providing research grants for younger college students — including undergraduates — is an important first step.

"Fewer and fewer young people want to go into research fields because they're not getting grants to support the research they want to do," Dignell said. "So, they're deciding the fields they want to go into aren't worth it. We've got to give people a long enough time to make mistakes and learn from them at the end."

She and Pocan both have pieces of legislation moving through Congress to ensure research dollars for young students. Dingell's co-sponsored bill is called the 21st Century Cures Act. Pocan co-wrote the Next Generation Researchers Act with fellow Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin.

Both lawmakers said they hope their bills maintain momentum and are passed soon.

Dingell also called for reinvestment in development once research gets funded. She said doctors at the discussion brought up the need for lifesaving drugs, the kind only well-funded researchers can muster.

The same goes for driverless cars and connected automotive innovations, an area of research dominated by U-M advancement. Dingell said Michigan and the U.S. must continue to bolster research in these areas before they cede ground to other regions or countries.

On education, Dingell said well rounded students are a priority for Michigan universities. She wants Congress to encourage teaching creativity along with advanced skills, like robotics.

"STEM is important, but advanced robotics and the like are outside the traditional STEM (course loads)," she said. "Everyone here talked about the need for that, and a need to look at the whole person to continue driving innovation."

One issue facing U-M is its influx of international students who learn vital programming skills, but are often forced to leave the country after school due to restrictive visa laws.

U-M had a total of 5,754 international students enrolled in winter classes this year, according to a 2016 university enrollment report.

Dingell said sweeping immigration reform must take place to keep these students here.

"The visa issue was something that got brought up and it's something we need to continue work on," she said. "The issue got brought up again in my office this week. It's critical."

Legislation is pending to address visas, but some of Dingell's colleagues in Congress may not be ready to tackle the issue until after the election. She said a culture of fear is the reason for delays.

"Right now, people are afraid because of national security, but we're causing fear," Dingell said. "National security is a legitimate issue, but we can't take a paint brush and paint people in broad strokes. We've got to have comprehensive immigration reform."