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Bush: `Will U.S. Lead or Fear the Future?'

By Felicia Fonseca/
Associated Press
      RIO RANCHO — President Bush urged employees at a computer chip factory to take their math and science skills into the schools to help the United States keep its technological edge in a global market.
    Bush told a round-table of business and community leaders here Friday that a company like Intel — the world's largest semiconductor company — can only be strong if it has a work force capable of competing internationally.
    While the president said the U.S. economy is strong, he said some people are concerned about the emerging economies of China and India and the U.S. jobs going to those countries.
    "America has to make a choice: Are we going to lead or are we going to fear the future?'' Bush said.
    Echoing his State of the Union address earlier this week, Bush talked about the need for greater public spending on basic science research and more money for math and science education.
    Bush's plan would double over 10 years the physical science research budgets at three agencies: the Department of Energy's Office of Science, the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology.
    To encourage private investment in research and development, a research tax credit for business should be made permanent, Bush said.
    He also has proposed training 70,000 high school teachers to lead advanced-placement courses in math and science and bringing 30,000 math and science professionals into the classrooms to teach.
    "If we're in a competitive world, we want to make sure our kids can compete,'' the president said.
    Nicole Lopez, a senior at Rio Rancho High School, told Bush how she had become involved in gangs when she was younger.
    But then, she said, two teachers encouraged her to study math and science and helped her turn around her life.
    "This is what we encounter on the streets every day,'' Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., said of Lopez after the round-table discussion. "The whole idea of mentorship, saving lives, those all fit together.''
    Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., said it's sometimes a challenge to get low-income students into science and math classes, but "they need to be exposed to that opportunity too.''
    Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said he doubts Bush can get enough funding for his proposals because the Republican-led Congress already has cut funding to the National Science Foundation and has not fully funded No Child Left Behind.
    Bush's visit to New Mexico is one of four around the country to discuss major policy issues. He was accompanied by first lady Laura Bush at the Intel plant.
    Sens. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., as well as other lawmakers have introduced legislation that would create a program to invest in research, encourage students to pursue science careers and improve math and science education in schools.
    Bush arrived in New Mexico on Thursday. As he greeted supporters at Kirtland Air Force Base, Mike Martin stood to one side in a suit and tie he scrambled to put together after finding out the president would honor his volunteerism.
    Martin, a volunteer at Starbase La Luz Academy at the base, received the president's Volunteer Service Award.
    Martin volunteers more than 100 hours per year during lunch hours and some weekends to teach students in the program, designed to encourage New Mexico students to pursue careers as scientists and engineers.
    "I do it because I like to do it, not because I would get something like this,'' he said. "This is just icing.''
    Martin said he was excited when the president came down the stairs of Air Force One and greeted him by name. He said he told Bush he appreciated what he has done for the country, and Bush told him he appreciates what Martin does for the children.
    White House staffers interviewed Martin by telephone Sunday, and he found out Tuesday he would receive the award.
    "Obviously there was a scramble to make sure I had the right clothes to meet the president of the United States,'' he said.
    A lot of Martin's work with children involves a hands-on approach to teaching thermal dynamics. For example, he said he will freeze a marshmallow, then throw it to children, and before it hits their hands, it will be warm enough to eat.
    But he doesn't tell the children how that happens.
    "I want them to tell me how it happened,'' he said.

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