Bush speaks at Tuskegee on jobs initiative

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 19, 2006

TUSKEGEE (AP) – President Bush put Tuskegee University on a pedestal Wednesday as an example of what needs to be done to make sure today’s students can compete for the high-tech jobs of tomorrow.

Bush helped celebrate the historic black college’s 125th anniversary by speaking of the school’s achievements over the years in agriculture research, aviation and race relations, while observing current research that might help develop some of those high-tech future jobs.

Wearing a dark suit and bright red tie, Bush spoke to about 400 people in a meeting room at Tuskegee’s Kellogg Center. He outlined a far-ranging plan to educate students from elementary school through college to be able to meet the demands of a job market that increasingly relies on technology.

Bush said the effort to train future workers must start with how schools teach the youngest children.

“All the talk about science and technology means nothing if our children can’t read,” Bush said.

The president and U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings earlier toured Tuskegee’s Center for Advanced Materials, where students explained to the president research using nanotechnology that could lead to lighter weight airplanes and stronger homes more able to withstand hurricane winds. Bush said he was impressed with the work being done at Tuskegee.

“I was a history major so they seemed really amazing to me,” Bush joked.

Bush is at least the fourth sitting president to visit Tuskegee University. Presidents Ronald Reagan, Franklin Roosevelt and William Howard Taft also made appearances at Tuskegee, according to university officials.

Getting special recognition from the president were Herbert Carter of Tuskegee and Carrol Woods of Montgomery, both 86-year-old members of the Tuskegee Airmen, an elite all-black fighter squadron during World War II.

Carter, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, said training students for high-tech jobs is also a priority for surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen.

“If we are going to produce scientists and engineers, we’ve got to motivate men and women in middle school and high school,” Carter said.

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, Tuskegee University President Benjamin Payton and Spelling sat behind Bush on the stage during his speech. The crowd broke into laughter when the president recognized Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford and referred to what was apparently a rough ride from the town’s airfield to the university.

“I know you didn’t ask me, but my advice is to fill in the potholes,” Bush said to Ford.

The mayor joked about the comment later, saying, “Maybe he’ll get me some money to help fix them.”

Tuskegee students, selected by their deans to attend the president’s speech, said they were proud to see their school get national recognition even if they don’t agree with Bush on some issues.

“The fact that he’d come to little Tuskegee, I guess we must be really special,” said Maurice Pogue, a 22-year-old senior english major from Mobile. Pogue described himself as a critic of Bush “since his father was president.”

Jaya Krishnagopalan, a 62-year-old professor of chemical engineering, said she would like to see the president do more to fund research at Tuskegee, but said it was an honor for Bush to get a chance to see the Tuskegee campus.

Krishnagopalan, a U.S. citizen originally from India, said she was interested in Bush’s ideas about education.

“For me, the most important thing is how we can help more people attain a higher education,” she said.