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Photo of Joseph Bordogna

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

“Bridge to the Doctorate”
Remarks at HRD Grantee Meeting

April 25, 2005

Good morning. I'm especially pleased to have this chance to welcome all of you to the Nation's Capitol. I know that many of you may be the first college graduates in your family. Many of you are probably also the very first in your family to embark on the road to your doctorates. I can certainly relate to that. I was the first in my very large family to graduate from college—and every one of them came to my commencement to celebrate my graduation.

When I look at all of you here today, I see invisible but strong connections to families and communities all over the country. These connections are often our greatest source of strength, yet at the same time these ties come with expectations that sometimes seem to conflict with new opportunities. Your families and communities need you, yet the world of science and engineering beckons. I am reminded of a new term for special people in your generation—it's a word coined by futurist thinker Nat Irvin. It's what he calls the "thrivals", who mark a shift in consciousness from survival to thriving.

In Professor Irvin's words, thrivals are "critical thinkers, technically adept, worldly, sophisticated, entrepreneurially driven, highly competitive." What is more, thrivals "are able to see the world through a global lens. "Perhaps most succinctly, thrivals "see themselves as forces capable of shaping the future rather than being shaped by the forces of the future."1

All of you—discoverers guided by mentors—have chosen, while being chosen, to take the step onto this bridge, the Bridge to the Doctorate. For each of you, this is both a sobering, and celebratory, moment. Our manager for your program, Art Hicks, calls this "a two-year running start toward the goal."

Every bridge leads to a destination, and in this case, it is the pathway to your PhD. Modernist painter Max Beckmann spoke of "seeking the bridge that leans from the visible to the invisible, through reality." I know you’re already well aware that this bridge of scientific and engineering creativity, which you're now traversing, has its ups and downs. The inclines can seem impossibly steep, and sometimes it's lonely and hard to make out your fellow travelers through the fog. But you are well guided by the passion each of you has demonstrated for discovering new knowledge.

We as a nation are proud of you; we as a community believe in you and are rooting for your success. Of course you are rooted in the closest circle of family, but you and your successes are also important to your encircling community and beyond to the global scientific community.

Today we recognize all of you for this passion—and we also encourage you in your potential contributions to the enterprise of discovery and learning. You bring a rich mix of personal histories and ideas. You reflect the diversity that is our nation's greatest strength.

Some 60 years ago, Vannevar Bush, who created the blueprint for NSF, wrote that "Science can be effective in the national welfare only as a member of a team." He also wrote that "Science cannot live by and unto itself alone." In our increasingly complex world, we can translate those words into the vocabulary of diversity. Science and engineering are evolving, and more welcoming of talent from everywhere.

To be sure, these are demanding times. Change in our society moves at a dramatic and breathtaking pace. Sophisticated and complex technologies pervade our lives. The level of knowledge and skills we need to prosper as citizens and as a nation grows every day, making lifelong learning an imperative. Our knowledge-based society places a premium on the ability to communicate, to cooperate and to work across geographic and professional boundaries.

These changes, and more, accelerate the demand for a broad range of perspectives in our decision-making institutions. We must draw together all segments of society, embracing the talents, skills and backgrounds of all our citizens. The differences in race, ethnicity and gender are a positive force, enriching our society and spurring creativity and dynamism.

Science and engineering will diminish in their power unless our entire society contributes. We simply cannot succeed as a nation without you. You are the new leaders and before you know it, you will be the new role models for the next generation.

NSF has been keenly aware of this need and has been carefully developing programs like Bridge to the Doctorate. Just as all of you have reached this threshold by merit, NSF works hand in hand with the research community in a system of peer review or merit review. When you come to us for research support, you enter into this system. We use it to identify the more promising, ground-breaking, projects. The Foundation receives over 40,000 proposals a year, through formal solicitations and from unsolicited sources.

We make 10,000 new grants, and renew about 20,000 grants, annually. The NSF process relies on a pool of over 50,000 voluntary reviewers to evaluate the proposals we receive—national and international experts in each field. The process ensures that many voices and points of view are heard.

We have two review criteria. The first asks: "What is the intellectual merit of the proposed activity?" Reviewers judge the proposal's ability to advance knowledge and the qualifications of the reviewer. The conception and creativity of the proposal are also considered.

The second criterion asks: "What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity?" Reviewers must consider the effectiveness of the project to advance discovery—and to promote teaching, training and learning. Under this rubric, we also search for the participation of underrepresented groups.

The merit review process provides a rich environment for collaboration and development, and we hope it will become your community as well, as you stretch your wings. In fact, we need you to be part and parcel of this pool of reviewers, to transform it to reflect the diversity of society.

Your own merit has brought you to the Bridge to the Doctorate, but in turn, as pioneers in this venture, you are bringing new merit to graduate programs in your institutions. In the words of marine biochemist Ashanti Pyrtle, "The Bridge program has the ability to transform a university's graduate environment. Our African American, Puerto Rican, and Mexican American cohort has transformed our graduate program and the impact on the undergraduates has also been seen."

The Bridge to the Doctorate program is designed to give you opportunities to develop your "scientific taste," to demystify the process of obtaining a doctorate, and to help you develop the skills to pursue your research. Some of you have spoken specifically about the benefits of the BD program. We not only welcome—we need and benefit from—this feedback.

Jozan Marie Powell, a Bridge participant studying instructional technology, appreciates the fact that "I don't have to work two or three jobs while going to school; it lets me really be a student and a scholar." She has also found that "the opportunity to work with a cohort provides academic and emotional support—we're developing a community of learners. "She asks for advice: How can we strategize to move toward the "scientific community we hope to create?"

Another Bridge student, Jennifer Ross, studies physical anthropology. She began with LSAMP in 2003, but was working at a bookstore 24 hours a week while going to school. Now, she notes, being a Bridge participant "has helped me tremendously. I can spend more time on my work, and do my research on my own terms." Jennifer is beginning her PhD next semester at Duke University, and hopes to go on to a career in research and teaching in the academic world.

Another Bridge colleague, Tony Price, focuses on wireless communications. About the Bridge program, he says: "It was a blessing. It put me right where I needed to be." He points to the "strong support group" around him, saying, "You know that you have other people you can relate to—we're not swallowed up."

And one more: Takita Felder Sumter, a chemist, worked as an LSAMP graduate mentor and is now an assistant professor at Winthrop College. "Science has taught me to treat every unsuccessful attempt as a learning experience…," she reflects. "I've also learned the importance of mentoring, and how it differs from advising…Now…I will try my best to serve as a mentor to others.'

Later on in this meeting you will be hearing from others at NSF in more detail about some of the many opportunities for support available for various aspects of your career. I hope you will use these opportunities as a bridge to the multitude of other programs NSF offers.

I'm often asked how minority-serving institutions fit into this new century, how their role has evolved. The answer is not in the "fitting in"—the answer is rather, given the constant evolution of our nation and the world, we are turning to those institutions for a new wave of leadership in an increasingly diverse world. In the same way, we are turning to you as individuals, who are already becoming the scientific community that we hope you will create.

To paraphrase a Welsh proverb, "He or she who would be a leader must be a bridge." While you are "on the Bridge" you are also becoming the bridge.

NSF cannot build the span alone. We need your ideas, your energy and your engagement, whether you serve as a researcher, a teacher, a mentor, a reviewer, a panelist, or as a short-term rotator as NSF program officer. There are many opportunities for you to get involved. Together we can transform the way the science and engineering community has looked, so it really does reflect all of us.

Thank you for your desire, enthusiasm, and commitment to being pioneers on this bridge.

1 "The Arrival of the Thrivals," by Nat Irvin II, The Futurist, March-April, 2004.
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