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Deputy Secretary Blank Advocates Public Service in Commencement Speech

Rebecca Blank, Deputy Secretary of Commerce, reflects on the commencement address she delivered to graduate students at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Ed. note: This is cross-posted from

This morning, I had the privilege of delivering the commencement address to graduate students at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) commencement ceremony.

I was also deeply honored to receive an honorary Doctor of Public Service during the ceremony for my work as a public servant, including the leadership I provided in my previous job at Commerce, overseeing the nation’s premier statistical agencies, the Census Bureau (during the 2010 Census) and the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

The commencement speech provided an opportunity to give advice to the graduate students and to encourage them to use their expertise and experience to find solutions to the pressing problems facing our world. UMBC is particularly well-known for its scientific training. Science, technology, engineering and math–STEM fields–are particularly important, and it is STEM-related research that will drive innovation in the years ahead. In fact, STEM jobs have grown three times faster than other jobs, indicating the need for more workers with these skills.STEM jobs are not just for graduates with advanced degrees: about one-third of STEM jobs are available to workers who do not have college degrees, but who have post-high school training and certification.

But in the U.S., only about 13 percent of college graduates finish school with a STEM degree, compared to 25 percent of college graduates in other countries, like Germany. That’s why the President’s 2013 budget invests $3 billion across the federal government in programs that promote STEM education, a three percent increase. In particular, we need to focus on creating more paths for women and minorities to get STEM degrees. And we need to make sure that we keep the talent already here, by “stapling” green cards to the STEM degrees of foreign students who come to the U.S., get a world-class education, and receive job offers which will help our companies drive innovation.

I also talked about the need for students to find ways to "give back" as they move through their careers. I care a great deal about public service and am proud to work in the federal government. More than ever before, government needs well-trained and effective workers. At Commerce, we do a wide variety of things that serve both businesses and consumers: We promote U.S. exports. We issue patents for new inventions. We oversee the Census, the National Weather Service, and cutting-edge labs at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

We have close to 45,000 employees, and I am impressed every day with their dedication to their work.  Many of them have multiple job options outside government, but they choose to work inside government because – among other things – they believe that government helps people and they want to make sure it works effectively.  

And there are success stories every day. In fact, just yesterday, Commerce Secretary John Bryson had the opportunity to recognize 41 U.S. companies and organizations that have made significant contributions to increasing American exports. Receiving the President’s “E” Awards, these organizations, 35 of which were small or medium-sized enterprises, contribute to the President’s National Export Initiative (NEI) goal of doubling U.S. exports in order to support American jobs.

Whether their degrees are in science, public policy or communications, I encouraged those who feel a calling toward public service to consider their options in government. I congratulate this year’s graduates at UMBC and hope that they will find ways to make the world just a little better place through their work and their careers.

Rebecca M. Blank is the Deputy Secretary of Commerce