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Dr. Bordogna's Remarks


Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Deputy Director
Chief Operating Officer
IGERT Meeting
Arlington, Virginia

February 12, 2001

Good morning and welcome to the National Science Foundation. As PIs in the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training Program (IGERT), you have two important claims to fame. You know what IGERT stands for and you are participants in one of NSF's newest and most promising initiatives.

IGERT is designed to develop new paths in graduate education for your students, for your university, and for the nation. As IGERT participants, you are pioneers in a reformation of graduate education in U.S. science and engineering.

A few years ago, The Economist magazine did a study of innovation throughout the world. In a sidebar to one segment there was a caption that read, "Innovators break all the rules. Trust them."

Well, we know that the study was not talking about 'breaking the law' when it said rules. Rather, breaking the mold or the norm, meaning moving outside of traditional ways of thinking - outside the box, as the consultants say.

You were chosen for the IGERT initiative because you showed the promise to be able to redesign old patterns of graduate research and education to meet the challenges of today. Although our system of graduate education is the finest in the world, the world is rapidly changing and graduate education must keep pace with those changes.

Science and engineering are leaving a pervasive imprint on every aspect of our social, economic, and political life. Academe, industry, and government are now but three of a multitude of work environments requiring scientists and engineers. This dictates that we train our scientists and engineers for versatility in their career options. Today, they are needed in everything from local community activities to international programs. And without question, we need many more in the U.S. Congress.

Scientific and technological advances are creating societal transformations in decades rather than centuries. We used to talk of tech transfer occurring slowly, over many years. Now, we think of it happening over lunch. We know that change is constant, but today's changes have two compelling characteristics, their rapidity and their complexity. For example, in the 1970s, nearly 60 percent of the world's top exports were simple products, raw materials, fuels, and ores. Today, roughly 25 years later, it's just the reverse. Sixty percent of our exports are complex products, advanced electronics, software, and the like. They require complex processes to produce.

At the extremes of complexity, we often come full circle to integration. It's no accident that the I in IGERT stands for Integrative. In fact, in almost all fields, the boundaries between and among disciplines are blurring. Often we find the most fertile scientific opportunities in these "foggy crossings" where the knowledge in one field answers the questions in another. Your role as IGERT awardees is crucial. Your job is to create the 'boundary-crossing attitude' and environment in graduate education for today and tomorrow.

The IGERT program is NSF's flagship initiative for graduate education. It is built on the universe of knowledge and experience that NSF has gained from the Science and Technology Centers, the Engineering Research Centers, and a variety of other experiments. It is holistic and flexible in approach. In some sense, it is a program designed to learn from itself.

The ultimate goal is to graduate PhDs with experiences that both span boundaries and dig deeply in several areas. Graduates will need these to meet the career demands of relentless change in trends, tools, technology, and tasks.

This speaks to the main features of the IGERT program: its emphasis on emerging areas of science and engineering, the hands-on experience with state-of-the-art instrumentation and methodologies, and the opportunities for work experience on and off- campus, and the excitement of prospecting at disciplinary interfaces. We fully expect that those who graduate with this preparation and experience will lead a new generation of scientists and engineers. They will "break the rules" with new insight.

Decades ago the migrant worker, social philosopher, and well-known writer Eric Hoffer said, "In times of change, learners will inherit the earth, while the learned will find themselves well-equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists." We know that IGERT is about the world that already exists -and the one that will exist.

In this time of change, and with your help, we will have a new generation of learners. NSF is pleased and proud to sponsor your efforts, and it has been my pleasure to welcome you to NSF this morning.


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