Meeting the Challenge of a Complex World
Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Chief Operating Officer
National Science Foundation
Remarks, AAAS/NACME Conference
January 15, 2004
Good afternoon. I am honored to be here today among the dedicated and compassionate
stewards of our Nation's science and engineering enterprise. Your efforts
have helped immeasurably to achieve our current progress in diversifying
the science and engineering workforce.
We all share sincere gratitude to Shirley Malcom, who has dedicated
her career to the important issues we have come here to discuss.
Without her, and others like her in many fields, we would not have
come as far as we have.
We can celebrate the progress we have made on many fronts. Yes,
there is more diversity in the science and engineering workforce
compared to thirty years ago, and many of you made that happen.
However, in the words of Robert Frost, we know that we "have
miles to go" before the task is complete.
Now, just what is this task?
In his paper entitled "Proposals Relating to the Education
of Youth in Pennsylvania," printed in the year 1749, Benjamin
"The good Education of Youth has been esteemed by wise [people]
in all Ages, as the surest Foundation of the Happiness both of
private Families and of Common-wealths. Almost all Governments
have therefore made it a principal Object of their Attention, to
establish and endow with Proper Revenues, such Seminaries of Learning,
as might supply the succeeding Age with [people] qualified to serve
the Publick with Honour to themselves and to their Country."
He went on further to opine about the educational frontiers of
the time, saying:
"That we may obtain the Advantages arising from an Increase
of Knowledge, and prevent as much as may be the mischievous Consequences
that would attend a general Ignorance among us, the following Hints
are offered towards forming a Plan for Education of the Youth of
Franklin then went on to describe a framework for a curriculum
suitable for the future world he envisioned.
Today, in the year 2004, we can add to his framework that the
diversity our Nation enjoys more than a quarter millennium later
gives us more intellectual capacity and societal reasons for carrying
out his admonishment to pursue that "surest Foundation" for
success in our individual and collective lives.
We thus have to ask ourselves: Will there be a robust mix of knowledgeable
U.S. citizens to meet the needs for S&E talent in our society?
And perhaps the more important question – Is the diverse
mix of U.S. students being taught and trained to take advantage
of the increasingly sophisticated high-skilled jobs of the knowledge
economy, many in science and engineering? Are we providing opportunities
for them to participate in, and contribute to, their society and
Let me make it clear at the onset that these questions and goals
are not mutually exclusive of this Nation's historic pattern of
welcoming foreign talent to our shores. In the past, this combination
of homegrown and foreign talent has provided a productive and exciting
balance for the Nation. Part of our responsibility is to ensure
that the balance does not tip precariously in either direction.
Before I speak about the government's role in capitalizing on
diversity, I want to explore, for a moment, a somewhat larger arc
of thinking and perhaps spark some questions for the discussion
The philosopher George Santayana said, "Those who cannot
remember the past are doomed to repeat it." NSF, in its many
dimensions, has been an astute reader of the past as it attempts
to carve out productive paths to the future.
Throughout the Foundation's more than 50-year history, and as
we look forward, we keep in mind the words of Vannevar Bush in
his 1945 seminal piece, Science: The Endless Frontier. To quote
Vannevar, "...the frontier in science...is in keeping with
the American tradition – one which has made the United States
great – [and] that new frontiers shall be made accessible
for development by all American citizens."
Vannevar Bush's thinking was in many ways a continuation of Franklin's
frontier thoughts. As we all know, Vannevar Bush's frontiers were
in science and engineering – but his intent was that those
frontiers were open to all who were interested and willing to work
The NSF was established to keep the Nation's science and engineering
enterprise always "at the frontier," and open to all.
We do this by making science and engineering investments focused
on the furthest horizon, recognizing and nurturing emerging fields,
preparing the next generation of science and engineering talent,
and conveying an understanding of the value and contributions of
science to society.
Although I list these components separately, they are, in fact,
braided as one into the Nation's system of higher education.
Perhaps dissimilar from our European and Asian counterparts, our
system combines research and education as two sides of the same
coin. We explore the scientific frontiers at the same time and
in the same place that we prepare the next generation of scientists
and engineers. In this way, the dual functions support each other.
And the reverse is also the case – if one part is diminishing
in some way, it will begin to affect the other. With this as the
context, let me try to address the government's role, in my case
NSF's role, in capitalizing on diversity.
As both policy and practice, NSF encourages diversification across
all funding programs. As a matter of policy, we return – without
review – any proposal for funding that does not separately
address broader impacts such as how well a proposed activity broadens,
among other things, the participation of underrepresented groups
and to what extent it will enhance the infrastructure for research
and education in science and engineering. And so, we have incorporated
the goal of diversity into our merit review criteria.
We also administer several programs specifically oriented at underrepresented
communities. Their goal is to determine a set of "best practices" which
could eventually be adopted throughout NSF and beyond – at
all levels in the educational community, in private industry, and
by other federal agencies involved with science and engineering
or science and engineering education. Before discussing some of
the individual programs, I should explain that although each program
can stand on its own, as a group they fit under the rubric of an
overarching theme: Workforce for the 21st Century. In the long
term, the goal is to nurture young students into productive citizens,
whose values and work advance the Nation as well as themselves.
We know that there is no better place to begin than with our children.
Helping to ensure that every child can participate in the nation's
prosperity and contribute to its progress is a major goal at NSF.
All students will need increasing levels of math, science, societal
and technical skills to thrive within today’s globally competitive,
Improving science and math education is part of the Foundation's
early mandate and has been a continuing thread through our mission.
NSF's GK-12 Program places science and math graduate students in
local schools to support teachers. The program pairs a graduate
student with a K-12 teacher for roughly 20 hours a week. The student
gains first-hand insight into the educational process while the
teacher is in touch with the most current thinking in science and
math that the student brings from lab studies. Both student and
teacher gain a trusted partner in this 2-way traffic. Linking local
schools with colleges and universities in this way builds a seamless
educational web. Partnerships between different educational institutions
is a theme that is repeated in many of NSF's programs.
Moving to the next level, we have several programs that partner
community colleges, where a very large proportion of underrepresented
minorities receive their higher education, with high schools and
universities. This creates a contact and structure for those headed
into community college and those moving beyond it. NSF's community-college-focused
Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program is an investment
in preparing a national technological workforce intended to be
world class and the vital core for 21st century industrial and
The Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program
is a wonderful success story centered around the undergraduate
experience. LSAMP develops strategies to strengthen the preparation
of, and increase the number of, minority students earning baccalaureates
in science and engineering fields. It partners research universities
with both 2 and 4-year colleges.
Today there are nearly 400 institutions participating in LSAMP,
and the program has produced nearly 200,000 minority baccalaureate
graduates in science, engineering, mathematics and technology.
In 2003 alone, there were over 22,000 baccalaureate graduates in
NSF's Historically Black Colleges and Universities Undergraduate
Program (HBCU-UP) promotes continuing improvements of science,
engineering and technology instructional and outreach programs.
Typical project implementation strategies include course and curricular
reform and enhancement, faculty professional development, supervised
research and other active learning experiences for undergraduates
in science and engineering programs.
HBCUs have a tremendous success rate, sending students on to study
for advanced degrees in numbers disproportionate to their size.
The HBCU-UP program tries to capitalize on this success.
At the graduate level, NSF funds the program for Integrative Graduate
Education Research and Traineeships (IGERT). IGERT transcends traditional
disciplinary boundaries by educating graduate students to do boundary-crossing
research as partners with faculty. IGERT educates U.S. PhD scientists,
engineers and educators with the interdisciplinary backgrounds,
deep knowledge in chosen disciplines, and technical, professional
and personal skills they need to become the leaders and creative
agents for change in their own careers.
Another NSF funded program at the graduate level is the Alliances
for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP). AGEP helps
to increase the number of underrepresented minority students receiving
doctoral degrees in all disciplines funded by NSF. The scarcity
of role models and mentors in the professoriate constitutes a significant
barrier to producing more graduates from minority groups. Capitalizing
on the large number of LSAMP baccalaureate graduates, NSF is particularly
interested in increasing the number of minorities who will enter
the professoriate in S&E disciplines. Our vision is to enable
the nation to have a robust pool of PhD graduates from which colleges
and universities can draw their faculties.
NSF also sponsors the Centers of Research Excellence in Science
and Technology (CREST) program, which supports improvement of the
research and training capabilities at the most productive minority
CREST makes funds available to promote the creation of new knowledge,
enhance faculty competitiveness, and build intellectual, research
and infrastructure partnerships.
That brings us to our Workforce for the 21st Century priority
area. This initiative undergirds the very core of the Foundation's
mandate and mission to advance the frontiers of science and engineering
and to promote high quality science and math education from primary
school through graduate education.
Workforce for the 21st Century takes all we have learned about
educating a capable and diverse workforce, and integrates it strategically,
across programs and across directorates. In a sense, NSF has been
building toward this comprehensive workforce initiative over many
years. Each of the previous programs mentioned were building blocks
in a careful process of creating diversity and creative capacity
for the science and engineering workforce.
We know that talent runs deep in America, in diverse streams of
intellect and perspective. This offers us the tantalizing potential
to accelerate our progress across the frontiers of science, engineering,
and technology. We also know that wanting to broaden the participation
of underrepresented minorities and women in science and engineering
is just not enough. We must learn to take full advantage of our
rich human resources, and there must be strategies and a plan for
action that create a path for making this happen ... along with
the hard, dedicated work that is needed to realize results.
As evidence of our work to date, today's student populations are
more diverse. They come from wonderfully different economic, cultural,
and ethnic backgrounds. They arrive in our classrooms with varying
levels of skills, and a wide variety of objectives. Many hold jobs
while attending classes. Others return for retraining or to pursue
a second career. Professional degrees are no longer a once-and-for-all
preparation for productive work, but are now an introduction to
a rigorous dynamic of shifting gears along exciting career pathways.
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 objective. Our country has neglected
proactive recruitment of its domestic talent.
As a strategic, as well as equitable, manifestation of this intent
for societal advancement, we unequivocally need more U.S. women
and underrepresented minorities in the S&E workforce. If we
don't encourage individuals from all diverse groups to enter into
the complex and dynamic fields of science and engineering, we lose
out on the opportunity to maximize the potential of our intellectual
capital. The differences that abound in race and ethnicity in our
society should be encouraged and embraced. They are a gift for
our future and should be nurtured. The divisions should be erased.
They are a drag on our energy and creativity.
We have moved into a whole new threshold of capabilities that
breach with the past and that will catapult us beyond today's horizons.
There is something more enabling about the era in which we live
than any of the past. The advent of cyberinfrastructure has resulted
in a potential leveling of the playing field – it has endowed
many with the capability to find the information and tools they
seek to educate themselves and make contributions. Cyberinfrastructure
is an equalizer, an enabler. It will increasingly democratize education
and opportunity. Despite such tools, though, there must be a desire
and a drive in the individual. Capability alone will not lead to
This is where we come in. It is our job now to plant the seeds
of curiosity, interest, learning, and the kind of education from
which both present and future generations will sow the benefits.
There is growing clamor to recruit more of our native talent to
the science and engineering fold. And believe me, you'll find NSF
among the loudest! We need their talent and their perspectives.
Without them, we will one day awaken, like the fictional Rip Van
Winkle, to a world that has passed us by.
There is a deeper, abiding issue at stake. Similar to Franklin,
James Madison in 1822 wrote:
"A popular Government, without popular information, or the
means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy;
or, perhaps, both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and
a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves
with the power which knowledge gives." Madison's words are
still fresh and instructive today.
This is the most fundamental rationale for an open-door policy
to science and engineering education. An open door policy that
educates and enables our own citizens to be contributing participants
in our great democratic system is essential to the endurance of
the Nation. Continuing the successful policy of embracing those
from abroad can only add to the richness of ideas and talent already
This new perspective on an old policy will make us a genuine welcoming
nation to both talent from abroad and from the nation's women and
underrepresented minorities. It can never be one or the other.
They are not mutually exclusive. The Statue of Liberty's torch
must light the way for those within our borders as well as those
from outside. If we scientists and engineers aspire to be leaders,
this is the challenge we must accept and meet.
We, here, as members of either AAAS, NACME, the Sloan Foundation,
or the science and engineering community, have all been party to
developing the building blocks of this workforce investment, in
one way or another, over several decades. Now it is the time to
integrate them. Now is the time to make the whole greater than
the sum of the individual building blocks.
In closing, let me say that this process of including and embracing
everyone in science and engineering does not have a beginning or
an end. Nor can it be measured in 25-year increments. It must become
the new fabric of science and engineering and endure throughout
this new century.
Return to a list of Dr. Bordogna's speeches.