"What is special about ETSU is that it has become nationally distinguished by focusing on its own neighborhood," Alexander said. "The College of Medicine focuses on the Appalachian region. The College of Pharmacy - the new College of Pharmacy draws most of its students from here.
"And the new Center (of Excellence) for Math and Science is focusing on math and science teachers in Sullivan County and Washington County and Carter County. Now a university that does that deserves national attention."
During a sweep through the Tri-Cities, the Tennessee Republican was on hand at ETSU for the announcement of a partnership between Eastman Chemical Co. and ETSU's Center of Excellence for Mathematics and Science Education to enhance math instruction via two-week summer workshops for teachers in Sullivan and Washington counties and Kingsport.
The "Eastman Scholar Mathlete Workshops" will take place June 11-22 on the ETSU campus with 29 elementary teachers and 25 middle school teachers. Extensive professional development and training activities for the participants will follow throughout the academic year.
Following the announcement, Alexander noted that first on the National Academy of Sciences' recent recommendations for keeping the nation competitive in "brain power" was to help K-12 teachers in math and science.
"The way we keep our jobs in the United States has a lot to do with innovation in technology - better schools doing better jobs ... and that in turn creates higher standards of living for all of us," he said.
The senator said some countries are trying to lure back math and science professionals working in the United States.
"China, India, European countries - they all see that our high standard of living in the United States has come through the innovations we've had since World War II, and they're trying to catch up with us," he said. "We're going to have to do a better job of growing our own."
Asked how the federal government could improve math and science education, Alexander said he hoped that within two weeks Senate leaders would introduce legislation to upgrade research, math and science and innovations.
"Right at the top of the list is federal support for summer programs for math and science teachers of the kind that Eastman is helping East Tennessee State University provide," Alexander said.
Prior to the math and science announcement at ETSU's Warf-Pickel Hall, Alexander visited ETSU's College of Pharmacy on the Veterans Affairs Medical Center campus, where he spoke with ETSU officials about the community effort that founded the pharmacy school.
Addressing ETSU's inaugural class of pharmacy students, the senator said he admired that ETSU had kept its niche by focusing on the region's needs, and the College of Pharmacy was an integral part of that. He also pledged to do all he could to help the college, although he was unsure what he could do in Washington.
"What's good about this is that you've done it yourself," Alexander said.