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Transcending Boundaries in Research and Graduate Education

Photo of Joseph Bordogna

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

Remarks, Western Association of Graduate Schools
46th Annual Meeting

Phoenix, Arizona
March 6, 2004

Thank you, Bianca1, for that generous introduction.

As you likely know, Bianca's personal acumen, as well as her depth of understanding garnered from her association with WAGS, is much appreciated in her national service at NSF.

It's a pleasure to speak to you all tonight – an assembly of deans who are guiding graduate and professional programs in many disciplines on campuses throughout the West. I feel a close connection to you, having served as dean of the school of engineering and applied science at the University of Pennsylvania. So I'm familiar with the challenges and the rewards that go with the territory.

I'm also pleased to be speaking at the Arizona Science Center, an appropriate setting for an NSF-oriented discussion. And I appreciate the wonderful presentations by Arizona State University students and faculty of work being supported by NSF funds.

To begin my remarks this evening, I want to share with you a poem by British poet, Wendy Cope, for a bit of levity and to open our discussion of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. I was given this poem by a colleague of mine, Dan Hoffman, who studied engineering as an undergraduate, became an English professor, and crowned his career as Poet Laureate at the University of Pennsylvania.

Wendy Cope's poem plays on themes of function, beauty, and reward and their integration in our culture. It was composed as a response to a lament by a U.K. Engineers' Council letter posted in the London Times, to wit: "Why isn't there an Engineers' Corner in Westminster Abbey? In Britain we've always made more fuss of a ballad than a blueprint..."

The posting went on to suggest that sans recognition in the Abbey, engineers do not enjoy the presence in society enjoyed by other careers and are thus minimized. In response to the posting, Wendy, with lighthearted humor, wrote:

We make more fuss of ballads than of blueprints –
That's why so many poets end up rich,
While engineers scrape by in cheerless garrets.
Who needs a bridge or dam? Who needs a ditch?

Whereas the person who can write a sonnet
Has got it made. It's always been the way,
For everybody knows that we need poems
And everybody reads them every day.

Yes, life is hard if you choose engineering –
You're sure to need another job as well;
You'll have to plan your projects in the evenings
Instead of going out. (It isn't swell).

While well-heeled poets ride around in Daimler's,
You'll burn the midnight oil to earn a crust,
With no hope of a statue in the Abbey,
With no hope, even, of a modest bust.

No wonder small (tots) dream of writing couplets
And spurn the bike, the lorry and the train,
There's far too much encouragement for poets –
That's why this country's going down the drain.

Wendy's observations are astute. Nothwithstanding the lack of recognition for engineers in the Abbey, both poets and engineers are creative and share common traits: they create lovely things that thrill our senses, enliven our souls, and add quality to our lives...all for a "modest" fee of course. Both seek to improve the quality of life, make us see the world whole, and propel us to actions we otherwise would not take.

The poem also reveals that poets and engineers suffer misconceptions about each other, as do most specialized groups in our society. These misconceptions disrupt the lines of understanding and yield narrow vision, especially about societal trends. Examples of misinformed vision abound and illustrate how easy it is for a specialized person to miss something that might be obvious to someone with a more holistic understanding of the world and its parts.

Now on to the specific business of your workshop. Tonight I want to share with you some thoughts as your integrative partner in preparing graduate students to succeed in an increasingly complex societal environment of rapid technological change, utter globalness, and enormous capacity to do well. My major aim is to give you courage to embrace the contemporary path along which Academe is roiling, as it responds to an increasingly robust integration of research and education within a context of both disciplinary and organizational boundary crossings.

We've made some progress in this realm in recent years in response to marketplace pull, but we're still short of our goal of institutionalizing its impact on organizational change in the way Academe has structured itself. Now is the time for all of us to accelerate our efforts -- so the nation can reap the benefits of investments being made to reach this end: a yeasty university construct yielding knowledge creation, knowledge integration, and knowledge transfer carried into life. Thus, the title of my remarks as: "Transcending Boundaries in Research and Graduate Education."

To effect this change, my generation of educational leaders has an important boundary of its own to transcend -- the divide between that familiar (20th century) academic environment where we were all educated, and the evolving 21st century context where the next generations will learn and work. I would add that there is no choice here since we are being compelled by intellectual events to so move. Even more, the beginnings of Academe presaged this 21st century "moment of truth." It's worth recalling how the Groves of Academus became the start of "making connections to learn."

Over 2,000 years ago, a well-to-do citizen of ancient Greece offered some of his real estate, a grove, to a thoughtful fellow citizen of considerable intellect. The thoughtful citizen desired to make the grove a place where fellow thinkers could gather for hearty discussion on matters of common and uncommon interest. Thus, did Academus yield property to Plato for the purpose of making connections to learn. In those days, a physical place was absolutely needed to develop and share knowledge, so Academus' gift was well received.

Plato's desire to network intellect was just one example of similar efforts, developing independently over several centuries in a variety of cultures around the world, that marked the birth of scholarly enterprise. As time passed, connections to learning proliferated, first slowly, as armies of scriveners valiantly copied tomes that filled libraries for their patrons, and then more quickly, as technological innovation increasingly became a facet of wealth creation and daily life. The flow of commerce inexorably meshed with the exchange of knowledge. From the scriveners to the printing press, to metallic telegraph and then telephone wires, to transoceanic cables to satellites, to glass fibers to wireless and beyond – the connectivity is becoming ubiquitous. Even more, the individual wisdom of many is being integrated for all.

From our vantage point today, we can see that holistic change has been waiting in the wings for many years. In his Mission of the University (1930), José Ortega y Gassett foresaw the need for synthesis and integration as a function of academe. He wrote:

"The need to create sound synthesis and systemization of knowledge...will call out a kind of scientific genius which hitherto has existed only as an aberration: the genius for integration. Of necessity this means specialization, as all creative effort does, but this time the [person] will be specializing in the construction of the whole."

As you might suppose, I see a close connection between NSF's core mission and the pressing need for us to meet our "moment of truth" by integrating research and education. Since its inception in 1950, NSF has responded to two fundamental questions for the nation asked at the end of World War II: "How do we sustain the partnership between government, industry, and universities formed to win the war and use it for societal progress in peacetime?" and "How do we increase our scientific capital?" In his 1944-45 correspondence with Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, Vannevar Bush offered a concise answer:

"First, we must have plenty of men and women trained in science. Second, we must strengthen the centers of fundamental research, which are principally the colleges, universities, and research institutions. The most important ways in which the Government can promote this research are to increase the flow of new scientific knowledge through support of basic research, and to aid in the development of scientific talent."

In pursuing this mission, NSF's efforts have morphed over 50 years to a strategic vision of "enabling the nation's future through discovery, learning and innovation" with a focus on three strategic goals: people, ideas, and tools. We invest in people to create a diverse, competitive, and globally-engaged U.S. workforce of scientists, engineers, technologists, and well-prepared citizens. We fund the most promising ideas to advance discovery in science and engineering connected to learning, innovation, and service to society. We invest in tools – broadly accessible, state-of-the-art science and engineering facilities and other infrastructure – to promote and facilitate that discovery, learning, and innovation.

We accomplish our daily work by keeping three strategies in play:

  • investing in intellectual capital
  • integrating research and education
  • promoting partnerships

During the past two decades, events at NSF leading us to today's formally stated strategic thrust tell the story of how we reached this point: What are these events and how are they synergistically linked?

  • This year is the 30th anniversary of NSF's Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers (I/UCRC) program, which implemented and validated the concept of an integrated partnership between academe and industry. This successful experiment was followed in the mid-80s by the Engineering Research Centers (ERC), as much to educate holistic engineers as to capitalize on large-scale industry-university partnerships. Soon afterwards came the Science and Technology Centers (STC) investments, which institutionalized the concept of integrative partnerships at NSF center programs.

  • The Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) and the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) were started more than two decades ago. SBIR directs some NSF research monies into proof-of-concept research in small business innovation, while EPSCoR focused resources on stimulating competitive research capability in regions desiring to build this capacity. Very recently, NSF has capitalized on the experiences garnered from these investments to create the Partnerships for Innovation (PFI) program as the ubiquitous enabler of regional innovation.

  • The Presidential Young Investigator (PYI) program, focused solely on research, has evolved into Faculty Early Career Development (FECD or CAREER), which promotes the integration of research and education.

  • NSF's competitive Awards for the Integration of Research and Education (RAIRE and AIRE) have highlighted the nation's leadership in the integration of research and education. Descriptions of the RAIRE/AIRE models from around the country are now available online: Reinvigorating the Undergraduate Experience, edited by Linda R. Kauffman and Janet E. Stocks (Carnegie Mellon University).2

  • The Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) investment has yielded more than 200,000 graduates. It provides not only baccalaureate scientists and engineers, but also a pool of potential doctoral students and a PhD pool through the Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) program, from which universities can draw faculty.

  • The fellows and traineeship programs now (1) yield couplings with K-12 teachers and students through GK-12 fellowships and (2) provide integrative doctoral studies funding through the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT).

  • The all-NSF priority areas enrich the disciplines through cross-boundary investments at robust interfaces along the S&E frontiers. Six of these are currently underway: Biocomplexity in the Environment, Human and Social Dynamics, Information Technology Research, Mathematical Sciences, Nanoscale Science and Engineering, and Workforce for the 21st Century.

  • NSF's investments in large facilities increasingly focus on distributed tools ubiquitously accessible across geographic boundaries.

  • The effort to calculate what it would cost annually to capitalize on the excellence of the nation in frontier research and education has become a contextual envelope for developing NSF budgets under any economic scenario.

  • The merit review criteria of intellectual merit and broader impact are working well. They operate within a framework of integrating research and education and broadening participation.

Since "integrating research and education" is to be embedded in all investment decisions, let me give you its overarching definition:

"The weaving of knowledge creation, knowledge integration, and knowledge transfer into a robust whole that both defines and enables the process of continuous learning and the quest for new knowledge."

At all levels the learning process is thus enabled and enriched by:

  • discovery, curiosity, and inquiry
  • the dynamics of the shared student-teacher experience
  • a holistic faculty and student body and effective partnerships facilitated by information/cognitive resources

This is an ambitious and comprehensive blueprint (and maybe a Wendy Cope ballad) for recasting the way research and education may flow in the future. Enacting it requires a fresh perspective and receptivity to system thinking and ever more meaningful partnerships among leaders in academe, government, and industry. I ask you to take the lead by breaking new ground on this issue, so our students garner the capacity to breach both disciplinary and organizational boundaries.

In our lifetimes, we have seen a half-century of technological and scientific innovation redefine the way we live, work, and communicate. Complexity and transformative change are now the overarching characteristics of 21st century life -- and the pace of that change is accelerating. If we are to prepare students to contribute and prosper in new worlds of continuous change, we need to focus on the values and beliefs that the integration of research and education bring.

At its core, the integration of research and education is a powerful means of not only educating more highly skilled engineers and scientists, but also a more science and technology literate citizenry. In NSF terms, it can help us develop the nation's intellectual capital and meet our PEOPLE goal of creating "a diverse, competitive, and globally-engaged U.S. workforce of scientists, engineers, technologists, and well-prepared citizens."

Coming to closure on my remarks here tonight, I want to read a portion of the remarks I made in January at an NSF CAREER PI Mentoring & Networking Workshop. I entitled my remarks "CAREER: Forging a Community of Inspiration." This can serve here to share with you the kind of daily tempo underway at NSF in trying to realize the NSF strategic vision of enabling the nation's future through discovery, learning, and innovation. Keep in mind as I read that there now exists a total of 3,000 CAREER Awardees. Thus, there is a critical mass out there in academe ready to cause big trouble!

Remarks at CAREER PI Mentoring/Networking Workshop:

"NSF fosters a network of partnerships to help achieve the nation's goals, recognizing that our academic partners are the leaders who create, integrate, and transfer scientific knowledge. At its very best, our higher education system serves as a creative "hothouse" that supports continuous learning and contributes new knowledge across many disciplines. It is clear that all of you in the CAREER community play a key role in maximizing the nation's scientific capital. Vannevar Bush would be proud!

I call on you as leaders to expand the community of inspiration so that it flourishes at your own institutions. You are in a position to help guide on-going change in academe because you share many talents above and beyond your core areas of expertise. Let me highlight four areas of change underway in the academic community and suggest some of the roles you might play as agents of that change.

First, research and education in higher education is becoming more integrated. As master integrators, you can shepherd this change by making your research the centerpiece of your teaching. This integration gives students a direct experience of the real-world research and discovery processes of science and engineering. It also works the other way: Student perspectives can inject out-of-the-box ideas and questions into research and education thinking.

Second, academe must do more to promote diversity to ensure excellence in the science and engineering workforce. As futurists, you see the connection between broadening participation in university science and engineering programs and creating a U.S. workforce capable of sustaining the nation's S&E momentum. As teachers and advocates within academe, you are already leading by example. Success in this area is essential to creating the community of inspiration.

Third, specialization within institutions of higher learning must be coupled with cross-boundary approaches. As holistic designers, you can lead new generations of learners across disciplinary boundaries. In your research, many of you are already creating exciting new partnerships across disciplines. It's past time to also infuse teaching with the benefits of interdisciplinary thinking.

And fourth, new kinds of knowledge must be thoroughly and productively infused into the larger society. As enterprise enablers, you can help facilitate dynamic partnerships between the knowledge creators of academe and U.S. business innovators. Your leadership in promoting and sustaining these alliances can expedite the introduction of new ideas and evolving technologies into the economy and the workplace.

Holistic change has been waiting in the wings for many years. In Mission of the University (1930), José Ortega y Gassett foresaw the need for synthesis and integration as a function of academe. He wrote:

"The need to create sound synthesis and systemization of knowledge...will call out a kind of scientific genius which hitherto has existed only as an aberration: the genius for integration. Of necessity this means specialization, as all creative effort does, but this time the [person] will be specializing in the construction of the whole."

Leadership of this kind requires consciousness, courage, and an intuitive interest in the future. A month before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, John Adams looked into our nation's future and wrote:

"We are in the very midst of a revolution the most complete, unexpected and remarkable of any in the history of nations."

228 years later, "we are in the very midst" of a series of new revolutions that will determine our next generations' future. Just like the cosmological universe, human knowledge and our capacities for creating future knowledge are expanding at an exponential, accelerating rate.

These revolutions, both simultaneous and complexly interrelated, provide our richest opportunity in history to strengthen the learning community of our nation across all scales of distance, time, scope and experience. That opportunity is within your talent and capability to achieve.

We trust your judgment and expertise. And we are grateful for your energy and enthusiasm for the challenges ahead.

End of Remarks at CAREER PI Mentoring/Networking Workshop:

So, too, does NSF trust WAGS' judgment and expertise. And so, too, are we grateful for your energy and enthusiasm for the challenges ahead.

Thank you for a lovely visit with you and especially the fine work you do for our nation.

1 Bianca Bernstein, introducer and NSF Director, Division of Graduate Education.
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2 http://www.cur.org/publications/AIRE_RAIRE/toc.asp
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Return to a list of Dr. Bordogna's speeches.


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