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Photo of Arden Bement

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

Remarks to the ATE National Principal Investigator's Conference
"Emerging and Converging Technologies"
Omni Shoreham Hotel
Washington, DC
October 15, 2004

Thank you, Gerhard1, and good morning to you all. I trust you have enjoyed an informative and inspiring conference this week. I'm anxious to hear more about the new concepts and collaborations that will arise from this event.

The ATE program is a wealth of valuable collaboration. As events throughout the world remind us, the differences among people -- whether racial, ethnic, ageist or economic -- can represent points of division, or the crux of collaboration.

ATE has wrought partnerships among a cornucopia of different people and institutions, allowing participants to bring their unique experiences to bear on problems that transcend race, ethnicity, age and gender.

Everyone wants a better life for themselves and their families. Everyone needs education. Everyone deserves access to the latest tools and techniques. ATE is an important mechanism for harnessing our different perspectives and focusing them to solve problems and achieve goals.

We have learned from hard, often bitter, experience that rejecting one another's differences breeds resentment and undermines our best efforts.

Conversely, embracing and cultivating those differences brings a reservoir of talent to bear on our shared problems. That is what ATE is designed to do. And so, let me commend and congratulate all of you for your participation in this program.

It is appropriate that this conference is entitled "Emerging and Converging Technologies." Just as new scientific and engineering disciplines have emerged over the past eleven years, the ATE program has emerged as one of the most successful initiatives in NSF's portfolio. ATE represents "the largest federal commitment to community college curricula and programs, with about 20 percent of the nation's community colleges receiving at least one ATE grant2."

The program's impact has expanded beyond basic technical education to encompass new fields such as bioinformatics, precision agriculture, and computer forensics. This emergence couldn't come at a more critical time for our nation.

Our workforce is aging, jobs are being lost to outsourcing, and many citizens and policymakers are concerned about how the United States will compete in the global economy. Although I, too, am concerned about these issues, I am also optimistic when I consider the contributions of ATE and other programs.

ATE is helping to educate the people who will literally keep our infrastructure and our enterprises up and running.

In addition, the program is putting the latest tools and technologies into the hands of these technicians, enabling them to compete and excel in new arenas. Earlier I referred to bioinformatics -- a blending of biological science with information technology tools and techniques. The field didn't exist eleven years ago, but now, ATE is equipping instructors to teach this new discipline.

During the summers of 2001 and 2002, the University of California, Davis, ran an institute entitled "Tools to Teach Molecular Biology and Bioinformatics." Thanks to support from an ATE grant, the institute was offered at no cost to the participants.

Seventy-nine community college instructors, from California, Arizona, Texas and Wisconsin, attended. One instructor remarked that her institution didn't offer a bioinformatics course because no one knew how to teach it.

The UC-Davis initiative was very helpful. Instructors attending the institute have either created new courses or augmented existing courses to include curricula on bioinformatics.

Bioinformatics plays a role in another example of ATE's expansive reach. Instructors at the City College of San Francisco launched an initiative called "Fix-A-Gene3." The project focuses on developing a treatment for xeroderma pigmentosum, abbreviated as XP. XP is a genetic disorder that causes extreme sensitivity to sunlight, usually resulting in skin cancer.

Community college students gain actual research experience, and they also see the real-world application and importance of their research. They are exposed to techniques in biotechnology and bioinformatics, and to the possible career choice of becoming a research assistant.

Another emerging field involves the convergence of disparate communication technologies into a single network. Increases in bandwidth and economies of scale have driven the convergence of voice, data, video and still imagery. Future networks, and the Internet, will carry all of these data types simultaneously, with increasingly rigorous expectations of quality and reliability.

Aside from requiring more robust networking technology, myriad compatibility issues will arise among service providers and equipment manufacturers. ATE is helping to educate technicians to address these types of problems.

In August of this year, a consortium of community colleges in the Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas area launched the Convergence Technology Center4. The Center is determining the skills needed to maintain converged communications technology, and will design and evaluate new curricula to teach those skills. The Center will recruit students in underserved areas with incentives such as service learning projects and mentoring opportunities.

Mobile workshops are also in operation to reach these remote areas. The workshops provide faculty development, as well as information for parents and community organizations. This Center is envisioned as a clearinghouse for educational materials in convergent communications technology. It is also part of a consortium developed by the National Center for Telecommunications Technology, which works with employers to serve as the source of industry-driven education, dealing with all aspects of telecommunications technology.

The concept of providing hands-on laboratories in distance learning is being addressed by ATE funding of a remote studio laboratory through Corning Community College in Corning, New York5. This project will develop a laboratory component for distance technology education by creating new curricula and modifying existing material to work in a remote laboratory setting.

Examples include the development of a data and image acquisition laboratory, and a set of remote lab exercises for introductory physics and optoelectronics technology courses. Under this novel initiative, distance-learning students will not be deprived of hands-on experimentation. In addition to improving student instruction, the remote laboratory will also be used as an outreach tool at area high schools.

While ATE blazes trails through areas like converging communication and remote learning, the program also refines older, still-viable, disciplines. Farmers are reaping the benefits of ATE grants to Jackson State Community College in Tennessee and the Agrowknowledge [agrow-knowledge] Center at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Working on a 1,000-acre cotton field, agriculture students experimented with "fully variable rate production." This technique evaluates the condition of each square foot of soil to determine how much seed and fertilizer to use. This differs from the conventional procedure of using soil samples to generalize conditions for an entire field.

Using aerial imagery, global positioning system (GPS) and geographic information system (GIS) technology, along with plant maps and inset counts, students were able to produce normal cotton yields at reduced cost. It was estimated that the test farm saved $100,000, and enjoyed an $85,000 net increase in profits, using the new planting methods. The owners of the farm were so impressed that they're using "fully variable rate production" on their cornfields.

An interesting side-note: Kirkwood Community College's Agroknowledge Center received significant additional funding from the Department of Homeland Security to prepare first responders in combating agricultural terrorism.

ATE has also sown new partnerships among K-12, two-year and four-year institutions, as well as between educators and researchers. One example is "The Case Files," a collaboration between educators at Nashville State Technical Community College and researchers at nearby Vanderbilt University. Their goal is to design a new curriculum featuring innovative technology education based on research into how learning occurs. According to the American Association of Community Colleges, the project represents "the first systematic use of problem-based scenarios for technology education.6"

Using a template developed by Vanderbilt researchers, the community college faculty develops case studies that combine problem analysis, field insights, resource development, and testing methods. The case studies are evaluated and refined by the Vanderbilt researchers.

Both institutions benefit from this collaboration. The community college faculty learns how fundamental research relates to student instruction, while the researchers gain new respect for the contributions of the teaching faculty.

This litany of examples is meant to assure you that NSF and the nation recognize the critical role that ATE plays in developing our most valuable asset, its people.

ATE educates teachers and students to tackle the most pressing problems facing our country. These range from obvious issues like counter-terrorism to less-obvious, but no less important, concerns, like renewable energy7.

In fact, some of you might've heard the discussion on renewable energy during last Friday's presidential debate - a timely illustration of ATE's forethought and significance.

I want to thank each of you for your participation in this conference, and for the good work you are doing across the country. We must continue to nurture our diversity, for it has proven to be the wellspring of our national innovation.

The ATE program capitalizes on the country's unique conglomeration of talent and tenacity. Again, I look forward to the convergence of novel ideas that will surely emerge from these proceedings.

1 Gerhard Salinger, EHR/DUE, ATE program director
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2 Direct quote, "ATE Changes the Way People Learn and Work," TECHcitement, April 2003, American Assoc. of Community Colleges, pp. 1-3.
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3 DUE award # 0202327.
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4 DUE award # 0402356.
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5 DUE award # 0402128.
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6 "ATE Bridging Gap Between Researchers and Practitioners" TECHcitement, April 2003, American Assoc. of Community Colleges, p. 6.
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7 "A Project for Renewable Energy Technologies; "DUE award # 0302819
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