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Remarks

Photo of Arden Bement

Dr. Arden L. Bement, Jr.
Director
National Science Foundation
Biography

"Science and Engineering's Human Resource Challenge"
URA Council of Presidents Annual Meeting

National Academy of Sciences
Washington, DC
February 8, 2006

Thank you for the warm welcome. I'd like to thank former NSF Acting Director Fred Bernthal for inviting me to speak today. Thanks also to David Baltimore and Susan Hockfield and the rest of the board of trustees for your vision and efforts. Most of all, I want to thank URA's member universities here today. It is an honor to share this time with you.

Your leadership, both individually and collectively, is an invaluable resource as we navigate the exciting and turbulent waters of the new century.

The URA Annual Meeting is always held right at the time the new budget comes out. Excellent timing on your part!

We at NSF are very excited about the next five years. The agency is a central part of the President's American Competitiveness Initiative. The President's fiscal year 2007 Budget includes $137 billion for Federal research and development, an increase of more than 50 percent over 2001.

Our 2007 budget reflects the Administration's firm confidence in NSF's research and educational leadership and has made a commitment to doubling the NSF budget over the next ten years.

Specifically, we are requesting a 7.7 percent increase in Research and Related activities for fiscal year 2007.

Further, we are requesting a 26 percent year-over-year increase in funding for Major Research equipment and Facilities Construction. Overall, the 2007 budget is 7.9 percent higher than 2006.

Clearly, there is much that is encouraging and exciting in the budget. It is with great pride that I bring news that funding for the physical sciences and engineering is being made a national priority even in an austere fiscal environment. This commitment is important as we look forward.

This nation has always been one to embrace the future boldly. In the span of a one hundred year period, we faced the uncertainty and sacrifice of a Great Depression, two world wars, and other major global conflicts. For every obstacle, we marshaled our talents, our resources, our resolve, and triumphed. The challenges we faced deepened and strengthened us as a nation.

The concept of "Yankee Ingenuity" became our calling card the world over. There was nothing we couldn't do once we set our minds to it. Innovation was, and is, a key driver of our national identity.

And while our abilities, our desire, and our commitment to a better world have not changed, the challenges certainly have. They often are not easily apparent because they differ from the past. Among other things, we currently face the continuing challenges of international terrorism, disaster preparedness, disease pandemics, rapid economic globalization, as well as the effective education of an advanced technological workforce for the 21st Century. Many of these challenges are, at this very moment, being addressed at your institutions.

Today, our economic competitors are most often our friends and/or allies. That is, we find ourselves competing with our collaborators.

They are a mouse click away and are moving aggressively to beat us at our own game. The developing world is shrinking because the developed world is growing.

We are in an Idea Race, an Innovation Race, and an information technology race, and the pace is lightning-quick.

Our central economic advantage lies in our increasing ability to innovate quickly and comprehensively or as Nathan Bedford Forrest, the famous rebel cavalry general advocated: getting there "firstest with the mostest."

There is a growing momentum in nations like China and India to employ novel methods in the classroom to create their own tailored pathways of science and technology talent.

Those efforts are paying off. Collectively, India, Japan, China, and South Korea have more than doubled the numbers of bachelor's degrees in the natural sciences since 1975 and quadrupled the rolls of those receiving engineering bachelor's degrees.

What I am saying here is not news. The papers are full of stories about challenges to our economic supremacy and in particular, our continuing ability to attract and retain the best minds for work in science, engineering and mathematics. The earth, we are told, is flat.

I believe this flat-earth theory can be carried to extremes. In fact, this nation has functioned best by being what I like to call "spikey".

By that, I mean that we have until now been able to innovate so effectively that we find ourselves standing alone atop an innovative spike with little or no competition is sight. That was then.

Now, gradually, the rest of the world is catching up to our build tall innovation spikes. Some of our spikes are gradually flattening out. As this happens it is critical to reduce the lead time necessary to build the next big spike.

In the U.S., three principal elements drive this "spike growth process": the world-class stature of our academic institutions, our broad and deep R and D infrastructure, and our first-rate research scientists and engineers. This "troika" has allowed us to maintain our innovative spirit and has been the key to our success. The URA members are strong leaders in all three components.

The synergies you have crafted among academia, research facilities, federal partners, and the private sector have allowed URA members to continue to experience remarkable successes. Your crown jewel, Fermilab, is now in the middle of its second multi-year run. The NuMI-MINOS experiments are yielding important findings in neutrino research, and the performance of the Tevatron has been exceptional as it regularly sets new luminosity records.

The U.S. high energy physics community is providing leadership and collaborating with global partners to design the International Linear Collider.

In partnership with NSF and DOE, the $50-million international Pierre Auger Cosmic Ray Observatory in Argentina will be fully operational by early 2007. Already, the Observatory is yielding truly impressive data, with a full 1600-detector array.

The URA is a vivid example of capital 'C' for Collaboration. The partnerships you forge have lowered the walls among disciplines, institutions, sectors, and nations. We at NSF are proud to have partnered with you in making many important discoveries possible.

In the near and mid term, you will have ever-more powerful tools at your disposal. At NSF, we continue to fund frontier research in cyber-infrastructure that will lead to computing at the petascale. This will have significant positive impacts on your work in that you will be able to access and mine increasingly large and complex databases.

Clearly, for all of us, the research and education watchwords are "science matters" and "nose to the grindstone" for seminal success.

Recently, Bill Gates called science and technical education "a matter of national security." I am sure this message moved like "the shot heard round the world" through segments of our society who are not following recent trends. As leaders of our research universities, you face this reality continually in educating a new generation of scientists and engineers to keep our national prospects secure.

Last week in his State of the Union address, the President proposed the training of 70,000 high school teachers to lead Advanced Placement courses in math and science and to bring 30,000 math and science professionals to teach in the classrooms. This is surely an important step.

But to my mind there must also be genuine connections between university faculty and public school faculty.

You are all teachers with critical roles in the education process. There are no teaching levels more important than others.

If the elementary school teacher fails in his or her mission, the entire pipeline collapses. Isolation and separateness have no place in education.

French physiologist Claude Bernard once said that, "Art is 'I'; Science is 'we'". I believe that if we do nothing differently to attract keen, new minds to science, technology, math, and engineering disciplines, nothing is what we will end up with. If we cling to the pedagogies of the past, we will fail to see the paradigms of the future.

It is time to find new ways for scientists and engineers and their academic institutions to reach out to members of their communities.

Education in the sciences needs to begin very early. It is important to create a "talent bridge" that extends from K through 20 and beyond.

It is our duty to stoke the imaginations of the inner city and rural second grader as well as graduates and PhD students. Our public schools are the feeder system for our institutions of higher learning. If we fail those kids, we will fail ourselves.

At NSF, bolstering K through 12 education is currently one of our most important organizational priorities. But we can't do it without your help. I'm calling upon all of you to find new and innovative ways to reach out to students in your various communities. It is instructive to remember that we will need that eight year-old of today for the heavy lifting in the sciences of tomorrow.

A longstanding NSF priority has been broadening the participation of underrepresented groups in science and engineering.

We have made some progress but we still find ourselves traveling a linear line of a very gradual slope. That needs to change. That is why it is so important for there to be a pathway of connections among all teachers and institutions.

The demographics for the year 2050 are already in motion. By that time, we will be a majority of minorities. The face of America and the face of our institutions will be experiencing profound change.

Right now we are in the midst of a seismic, demographic transformation that will profoundly shape our national character over the next half century. If you go into our elementary schools, you can see the full impact of that change that will steadfastly grow into the next adult generation.

We need to be on the leading edge of innovations to increase broadening participation of underrepresented groups. We need to address this with the same energy and focus we have innovated and advanced our disciplines and fields. We at NSF need to hear your ideas so we can work together.

What we have is a basic human resource challenge and we need to put our best efforts into finding a human resource solution. As the global talent pool tightens in the aggressive movement from developing to developed nations, there will be a scramble for the best minds. Increasingly, foreign talent will find exciting jobs and compelling reasons to stay at home. The U.S. has those challenging jobs now but we are not cultivating our own next generation to fill them. Our biggest nurturing and mentoring job still lies ahead of us.

So far we have proven that we have the rhetoric down cold. Now we have to back it up with more concrete action. NSF has been making inroads but we need more institutional changes to enable truly revolutionary change. It takes years to educate a young person. The clock is ticking.

I believe the frontier that has always unfurled before us in science and engineering can only remain open with the right people. All of our incredible tools, all of our first-class institutions, all of our top-notch research facilities, all of our high-tech industry need energetic, innovative people to keep them humming. If we don't invest in the people we will lose our magic.

Your work is relevant, vital, and recognized as key to our continuing national and global success. Through the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI), the research and education communities stand a good chance of receiving generous new resources.
It is important to remember the words of John F. Kennedy when he said: "to those to whom much is given, much is required." I look forward to your ideas, your leadership, and your continued partnership as we together address the challenges of our uncertain but exciting future.

Thank you.

 

 

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