Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Chief Operating Officer
National Science Foundation
Keynote Address: "ADVANCE: The Future of Academe"
Virginia Tech ADVANCE Workshop, "AdvanceVT Inaugural Workshop"
January 12, 2004
Good afternoon. I am happy to have this opportunity to discuss with you
a matter important to both Virginia Tech's continued growth and success,
as well as to the future prosperity of our Nation as a whole.
Each and every one of us here has a common goal – we all
hope to advance the success of U.S. science and engineering. In
a world made increasingly complex by the intertwinings of greater
knowledge, new technologies, increasing expectations, and a more
diverse population, we are surely faced with a formidable challenge.
Tackling the complexity of such wide-ranging issues requires a
multi-faceted approach – one from many perspectives and on
We all recognize that greater diversity in the science and engineering
community is vital to our nation's success and security. We understand
how including the full gamut of intellectual perspectives and talent
gives us an international edge in discovery and innovation. And
we know that embracing diversity is the right thing to do.
Though not robust, we can celebrate progress in diversity we have
made on many fronts. Yes, there is more diversity in the science
and engineering workforce compared to thirty years ago, and there
are some people who know how to make it so. Yet the fact remains
that years of dialog and effort have not produced the surge in
forward momentum that is necessary – and increasingly urgent – to
reach our objectives.
This is surely one of the significant "gaps" between
science and society. If we are going to "bridge" this
gap, we need to be absolutely clear about our common aims, and
then move decisively beyond agreement to collaborative action.
We should not make the mistake in qualifying this challenge as
a result of the increasing complexity of our times. Nor is it an
issue that has just recently come to our attention. Broadening
participation in science and engineering has been our challenge
for many decades. It even had specific mention in Vannevar Bush's
1945 Science—the Endless Frontier report to FDR. In Bush's
words, "We must have plenty of men and women trained in science,
for upon them depends both the creation of new knowledge and its
application to practical purposes. …The frontier of science
... is in keeping with the American tradition – one which
has made the United States great ... new frontiers shall be made
accessible for development by all American citizens."
The National Science Foundation was founded more than fifty years
ago to ensure the "frontiers of science" were, in fact,
accessible to everyone in the Nation. To this day the NSF continues
to keep its science and engineering investments focused on the
furthest horizon, to recognize and nurture emerging fields, to
prepare the next generation of science and engineering talent,
and to convey an understanding of the value and contributions of
science to society.
Within this context, ADVANCE is an important expression of NSF's
commitment to build a science and engineering workforce that is
both inclusive and diverse. This is at the very core of our mission,
which is as much about preparing a world-class workforce as it
is about discovery. Talent runs deep in America, in broad streams
of intellect, perspective, and culture. We possess tantalizing
potential, but we have not yet learned to take full advantage of
our rich human resources and intellectual capital.
We can take credit for our hard work and accomplishments, because
we are slowly making progress. But after all this time, we still
aren't where we should be. We must do more and we must do it now.
Academic institutions stand at the fulcrum of scientific, technological
and societal change. The scientists and engineers they educate
and train are expected to foster progress toward diverse and daunting
goals. They must create new knowledge, artifacts and systems; stimulate
economic development, create wealth and jobs; sharpen the nation's
competitive edge; raise our prospects for more productive and satisfying
lives; care for the environment; and strengthen our national security.
All of us here today are certainly committed to this important
responsibility. And we are willing and capable of handling this
task. A critical element to ensure success is broadening participation,
and within this element a focus on women commands our attention
at this workshop. NSF's ADVANCE investment is intended to enable
community effort toward this end.
A principle of ADVANCE is that it will not succeed without the
collaborative efforts and dedication of all members of an institution,
from students, support staff, and faculty to provost and president.
With each passing year we recognize the positive correlation between
strong institutional and program leadership and overall success.
Alice Hogan spoke earlier about ADVANCE from NSF's perspective.
I want to expand on some of her comments.
I firmly believe ADVANCE can help us meet the challenge of broadening
participation in the science and engineering workforce.
How we get the job done is by no means straightforward. Our world – like
the science and engineering of our times – is increasingly
complex and dynamic. The challenge of diversity is no exception.
Accelerating our efforts to meet this challenge will require, for
starters, a refined and sophisticated posing of the questions we
should be asking.
Keeping our antenna tuned to the need for action, I will offer
you some contrasting viewpoints that may help us clarify our strategy
and vision. These contrasts suggest a subtle shift in focus – a
reframing of issues that may provide a more useful context for
In other words, I want to contrast what broadening participation
in the science and engineering workforce is NOT about – as
a way of suggesting what it IS about.
First, it is NOT about the total number of engineers or scientists
the nation may or may not need. More and more frequently we seem
to be stymied and distracted from our diversity goals by questions
about trends and statistics. Do we really need more scientists
and engineers? Is the demand for them really greater than the supply?
Are PhD's going to go begging for career opportunities in academe,
in government and in industry? These questions divert our attention
from the primary goal.
It IS about the need to include a larger proportion of women,
underrepresented minorities and persons with disabilities in the
scientific workforce, and particularly in academe. Whatever the
total numbers turn out to be, we need a robust and varied mix,
and that means expanding diversity.
Science, engineering and technology are creating accelerating
change in our rate of discovery. We are quickly expanding our understanding
of nanotechnology, biodiversity, the science of learning, and many
other fields. The virtually untapped resource of our diversity
will infuse innovative perspective for these new frontiers and
require active involvement of us all.
Second, broadening participation is NOT about the number of foreign-born
students, scientists or engineers who study or work in the U.S.
They have always provided a source of strength for our own society
and economy, and an avenue for lifting human potential globally.
They are as welcome now as those who came before them.
Broadening participation IS about fully developing our domestic
talent. In our knowledge-intensive society, we need to capitalize
on all available intellectual talent. Although we're doing better
than we did thirty years ago, we have not yet seriously tapped
our nation's competitive "ace-in-the-hole" – domestic
women, underrepresented minorities, and persons with disabilities.
Now we are playing catch up in a very competitive world. We need
to understand that diversity is an asset, and dissimilarity a valuable
component of progress. If we do not face this now, we will wake
up one day like the proverbial Rip Van Winkle, to a world that
has passed us by.
Third, it is NOT about keeping businesses from going abroad. Science
and engineering have always been international. In today's increasingly
networked world we are unlikely to staunch the flow of mobile and
global enterprises, into and out of our borders, even if we wanted
It IS about educating scientists and engineers with a competitive
edge. To be on the frontier of discovery and in the vanguard of
innovation requires new capabilities and skills that are qualitatively
different from production-line education that turns students into
commodities bought on the global marketplace at the cheapest price.
We want to create an environment that attracts an eclectic and
diverse array of students to pursue studies in science and engineering,
and encourages them to stay the course. We need a variety of learning
paths that support creative, world-class scientists and engineers.
Fourth, it is NOT about demanding that our students learn more
and more basic knowledge, or delve deeper into a specialty. This
is a good thing to do, but knowledge is changing so rapidly that
sticking to this path alone could be a recipe for disaster.
It IS about providing students with additional capabilities that
will enable them to work across boundaries, to handle ambiguity,
to integrate, to innovate, to communicate and to cooperate. These
are components of a holistic education that not only suits the
science and engineering of our times, but also thrives on diversity.
The differences in race, ethnicity, and gender that abound in our
society are a positive force to engender this creativity and dynamism.
The divisions will only hold us back and sap our energy until we
Fifth, achieving our common goals is NOT about working from the
bottom up or from the top down. We are frequently asked, "What
is the National Science Foundation doing to solve these problems?" NSF
is certainly a willing and able player, as it should be. We are
very seriously committed to broadening participation. Our statutory
mandate explicitly includes this responsibility. That means taking
action, not just talking – we identify and support innovative
programs to broaden participation. But we are by no means capable
of addressing all the issues single-handedly.
Broadening participation IS about working together. We will realize
our goals sooner if we all work together in harmony.
It is this varied, richly textured and shaded fabric of diversity – not
any single thread – that provides durability and strength
to our science and engineering enterprise – and thus to our
nation. Diversity – once given scope and opportunity – has
the potential to shape, to transform, and to drive our future for
We need to spend less of our intellectual capital worrying about
supply and demand, and invest more in getting on with the task
of transforming the nation’s diversity into our strongest
asset. The price here, the treasure trove of diversity, is clearly
worth the effort.
We can't expect a workforce with a flair for innovation, and agility
in the rapid pace of change, to arise from a homogenous talent
pool. Broadening participation is the smart thing to do.
ADVANCE is an important stepping-stone in our goal to broaden
participation in the S&E workforce. While ADVANCE's goals are
specific – to increase the representation and advancement
of women in academic science and engineering careers – it
is also at the center of a ripple effect that we expect to create
even greater aspirations.
For example, ADVANCE acts as an initiating spark to create role
models, mentors and leaders for future generations of scientists
and engineers. Mentors and leaders are able to not only inspire,
but they can support established scientists and engineers throughout
their careers. They are also particularly important to institutionalizing
the presence of women in academe.
ADVANCE is about action, taking steps to make a difference. We're
investing in the people who know how to effect change. We're enabling
those who can actually pull it off.
ADVANCE serves as an institutionalization and acceleration of
an on-going process. We must ensure an eclectic mix in academe
that reflects the rate at which society is changing. ADVANCE catalyzes
the melding of many individuals, each contributing her or his unique
background and perspectives to the mix.
ADVANCE is NOT about creating advantages. It creates formal structures
for what often happens informally, allowing equal opportunities
for every individual. It's no longer about opportunity arising
only from the luck of the draw or fortuitous acquaintances. In
these situations, transparency in the formula for promotion can
only benefit all individuals involved.
The essence of ADVANCE is collaboration, diversity, dedication,
and open mindedness. Scientists and engineers must come together
with social scientists and statisticians to formulate better understanding
of and action plans for our current situation. Businesses and industry
can help academe understand its approach to the bottom line, organizational
behavior, sustaining creativity, and attracting customers. Virginia
Tech can systematically attack a societal issue and devise new
resolutions to enduring discrepancies. It's not about starting
from scratch – it's about taking what we have learned and
getting the job done.
I may sound impatient, and I am, but when we understand that diversity
is the lifeblood of progress and prosperity, it becomes the nation's
responsibility – and that includes all of us. Every sector
and every citizen shares some responsibility. We will get there
faster if we work together. It is our job now to create an inclusive
As I leave you to your important work at today's workshop, I would
like to remind you that we do not expect this to be an easy process.
But we do expect it to be pursued with some alacrity based on immeasurable
dedication. Done well, it will be an exciting and creative journey
for us all. The rewards will be great. The U.S. will continue to
be at the cutting edge of science and engineering research and
education, and enjoy a competitive position among increasingly
proficient science and engineering nations around the globe.
In the words of the insightful William Shakespeare, "To climb
steep hills requires slow pace at first." Well the slow pace
now ends: together, we can accelerate up that hill and fulfill
Return to a list of Dr. Bordogna's speeches.