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Remarks

Photo of Joseph Bordogna

Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Deputy Director
Chief Operating Officer
National Science Foundation
Biography

Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring
May 7, 2004

Good morning to all of you. I have the honor of greeting you for a second time, and the distinct pleasure of telling you how truly inspiring it is for us to have you here.

Yesterday, we celebrated your achievements. Each of you received a well-deserved award for your excellence in mentoring. For your good deeds, your prize today is sitting patiently through these remarks!

I have heard that a university president once gave a prospective commencement speaker this bit of advice: "Think of yourself as the body at a wake" he said. "They need you in order to have the party, but no one expects you to say very much."

Joking aside, you are here today to do one of the things you do best: mentoring. Successful learning experiences are giving and taking in a spirit of mutual compassion and civility. I'm certain each of you has discovered that we learn from our students as much as our students learn from us. Mentoring is a partnership—a deeply collaborative process. Today, you will begin to learn from each other how you each do the business of mentoring, and explore ways to bring the joy of mentoring to others. We hope this interaction will grow robustly into the future.

What you do is very serious business indeed—for every student you mentor and for the nation's future. I want to expand on this two-fold value you contribute to learning.

I'll begin with the value you bring to students. First and foremost, this is not imparting facts and content, though that is surely important. And it isn't principally instilling broader skills, though that is significant as well. Mentoring is the much more difficult—and rewarding—process of discovering, through interaction, the wellspring of the student's curiosity and enthusiasm, and then nourishing both.

The late Nathan Pusey, Harvard's long-serving President during the nineteen fifties and sixties, put it this way: "through sympathy, emotion, imagination and patience, to awaken in the learner the restless drive for answers and insights which enlarge the personal life and give it meaning."1 That is what you do, and you are the best there is! Today, we might call this "sustainable" learning—learning that ultimately rests on a personal quest, a mission that lasts a lifetime.

I know from my own experience that mentoring takes place in almost as many ways as there are mentors. That isn't surprising once we recognize that each mentor brings something personal and therefore authentic to the partnership. This facet of mentoring, more than any rubric or rules, is what helps students flourish and awakens their talents.

As if inspiring such a quest in students were not enough, you also bring value to the nation. Science, mathematics, engineering and technology play an ever-expanding role in our contemporary society. Every citizen needs to understand more science and mathematics to participate fully in the life of the nation—both in order to contribute to our common prosperity and to enjoy its benefits.

As mentors, you understand that students today require new capabilities and skills. These capabilities and skills cannot be acquired through production-line education that turns students into commodities. We want to create an educational environment that attracts and encourages students from the nation's full diversity of talent. We want to inspire them to pursue studies in science and engineering and help them to stay the course. We want them to fully realize their respective talents and aspirations.

You have done this brilliantly. Now we need to find ways and means to make this the vanguard of a larger revolution in education that will rally still more educators and researchers behind the mentoring banner. Your work today and beyond can do just that. We need you to stay connected and work to create a mentoring movement that is greater and more profound than the sum of it wonderful parts.

I applaud each of you—for the curiosity that drives you to investigate unresolved mysteries, for the imagination you use to unveil them, for your generosity and determination to awakening these gifts in those you mentor, and for your commitment to carry forward together the singular asset you bring to our nation.

1 Nathan M. Pusey, Former President, Harvard; NY Times 22 March 1959.
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