Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Acting Deputy Director
NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
National Technological University
AUGUST COMMENCEMENT CEREMONY
Fort Collins, Colorado
August 7, 1997
President Baldwin, members of the faculty, graduates
-- here and on video monitors -- and their families
and invited guests, I am pleased and privileged to
participate in NTU's commencement exercises today.
I am always delighted to speak with and to engineers.
I am always enthusiastic about addressing students,
whether they are eighteen or eighty years old. But
I am far beyond enthusiasm to be able to address a
group of what I would call "new age engineering graduates."
The concept of the National Technological University
was an innovation, a risk, a leap of imagination in
graduate engineering education when it was initiated
over a decade ago. I am reminded of the comment about
"risk" made by playwright Neil Simon. He said, "If
no one ever took risks, Michelangelo would have painted
the Sistine floor."
Today I want to talk briefly about "taking risks"
and about the role of engineers as "agents of change."
Taking risks, doing things differently, and breaking
the traditional patterns all bring us to a new place
-- a place most often undefined and unconstrained
by the norm. We are living in such a place today.
We are living in the infancy of what scholars and
song writers all term the "Information Age," despite
the fact that there are no adequate definitions of
what an information age means. As most of you know
better than I do, information systems and learning
tools are powerful but still somewhat enigmatic mechanisms.
We know what they can do today but we cannot actually
imagine what they will enable us to do tomorrow.
But despite the lack of a better term, you have all
been engaged in an "information age" graduate education.
We do know that it has been more comprehensive than
attending a single engineering institution. It has
been more flexible and convenient. And you have had
the best in human resources from multiple academic
As President Baldwin related in his annual report
of 1995-96, we've witnessed the explosion of the Internet,
the World Wide Web, and Intranets, and NTU was positioned
to take optimum advantage of all these information
At the National Science Foundation, we are trying
to help traditional educational institutions expand
and change the concept of engineering education and
of the role of the engineer in society.
But let us think for a moment about change in the
larger historical context. Eight years ago, at an
AT&T Corporate Strategy and Development Conference,
a speaker by the name of William Van Dusen Wishard
made a very insightful comment about change in the
scope of human history.
He said, "Throughout most of history, in most parts
of the world, life was relatively static, and continuity
rather than change was the norm. The idea of purposeful
change -- that people shape their own destiny -- only
really emerged in Europe in the seventeenth century.
Now change is the global norm. Simultaneous technological
change in every part of the world [is] a completely
new fact of history. And so is the corollary -- that
what happens on one part of the globe has instant
repercussions on the other side. This fact alone makes
our period unique in the 6000-year recorded history
of the human race."
Throughout history, engineers have been "agents of
change." We have designed, made and built things that
have consistently changed people's lives and their
mode of living. We have not necessarily thought of
ourselves as "civilization movers" but rather as curious
and sometimes quirky "doers." We solve problems, big
We also do not necessarily focus on the big picture.
That is perhaps why we haven't always seen ourselves
as "agents of change." In this unique period of human
history, where technological change occurs at a breathless
pace with instant global repercussions, engineers
need to step back and consider the larger implications
of what they have routinely seen as, pardon the pun,
We must contemplate our work in the larger context
because what we do often changes the "big picture"
dramatically over time. We need to assimilate the
concept that for the first time in human history the
environment must be protected from humankind instead
of the 6000 year pattern of humans needing protection
from nature. Although we are still vulnerable in the
wake of tornadoes and earthquakes, we have, nonetheless,
reached the historical juncture where the planet is
vulnerable to our excesses and our power to inflict
Engineers will be one of the most significant forces
in designing continued economic development for humankind
in a manner that will sustain the long-term viability
of our planet habitat. The noted microbiologist, Jonas
Salk, said "Our greatest responsibility is to be good
ancestors." Engineers have a major role and responsibility
in making that a reality. You will be the designers
for all facets of "sustainable development," and global
survival. And you will be responsible for passing
that new perspective and knowledge on to future generations
All of you are actively engaged in professional careers
that require both your first-rate technical knowledge
as well as various communicating and team-work skills.
These other skills, which allow you to be an engineer
in different contexts and with people other than engineers,
are increasingly important in today's changing and
highly competitive workplace.
The perspective to be able to think of yourselves
as major "agents of civilization change" may not be
easy to encompass. Thinking holistically of the larger
context of your work has not been part of the traditional
But you are, by your very unique NTU education, a
new kind of engineer. You have the maturity and wisdom
of experience in your profession and you have the
added advantage of comprehensive new knowledge --
perhaps the best of both worlds.
I ask all of you at this graduation milestone in your
lives to consider the formidable impact and influence
of your work in universal terms. I ask you to take
upon yourselves the future responsibility of helping
other engineers to see their work similarly and to
help change engineering education in the direction
of this larger perspective.
I wish each of you great success as you advance in
your careers. An NTU degree is a significant step
toward that goal for yourselves and for society. Good
luck and continued good journeys.