"From Pipelines to Pathways"
Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Chief Operating Officer
NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
Assessing the Impact: ATE National Principal Investigators
October 24, 2002
Good evening to everyone. I'm delighted with this splendid
opportunity to speak with you and to learn about your
ventures. I'd like to thank George Boggs and his colleagues
at the American Association of Community Colleges
for arranging this conference that brings all of us
together to exchange ideas.
I'll begin by welcoming you on behalf of the National
Science Foundation. NSF is all about people, and that
includes all of you who are part of the Advanced
Technology Education program. We are all partners
in an enterprise that has far-reaching consequences
for the prosperity, security and well being of our
nation: preparing a 21st century workforce.
We are on a journey whose roadbeds enable society's
heavy traffic to flow with vigor and success.
This audience knows that career opportunities for technically
skilled workers are increasing in every sector of
the economy, from agriculture to marine exploration,
from multimedia design to designer materials, from
biotechnology to ecosystem management - and on and
on. The Advanced Technology Education program spans
all of these areas and many more.
Many - and I count myself as one - believe that the
greatest share of our technical workforce in the decades
ahead will be educated in community colleges.
I want to talk about the story behind this belief and
offer some suggestions about what it means for our
Technology is the very bones of our economy and society.
It enables us to compete in the global marketplace,
raises our prospects for more productive and satisfying
lives, and strengthens our national security.
Technological innovation moves forward hand-in-glove
with the fresh science and engineering knowledge that
drives it. Discovery and innovation are the twin pillars
of 21st century progress.
They bring with them an era of breathtaking transformation.
New technologies - and whole industries - emerge in
what seems like the blink of an eye.
This rapid pace and the increasing complexity of technological
change have irreversibly altered how we prepare ourselves
to understand, control, and exploit our new knowledge.
Of course, the preparation I refer to is simply "education",
and the process involved is "learning." This brings
people onto center stage. In our multiple
roles as educators, workers, researchers and innovators,
we are the ultimate drivers of change.
We are not just a bewildered cast of characters, upon
whom transformation is perpetrated, but thoughtful,
intelligent, and collaborating actors designing and
molding change to our own ends.
Taking responsibility for our own fate updates our
story from a Greek tragedy to a modern morality play.
We no longer view ourselves as raw material flooding
through a one-dimensional educational pipeline, but,
rather, as agents of change walking tall along a variety
of linked pathways. I've titled my remarks "Pipelines
to Pathways" to reflect this vital difference.
It brings our central issue into the spotlight. How
can we design educational paths and learning environments
that will suit our 21st century needs?
Our capability to deliver the goods will depend on
at least two developments: our ability to discover
fresh knowledge about how we learn, and our boldness
to bring that understanding into the classroom, the
laboratory, and the workplace. This is an absolutely
vital responsibility of community colleges - we will
not deliver the goods without you.
As we pursue those goals, there are some clear themes
First, students entering the workplace today need to
know more basic science and mathematics than
Second, students entering the workplace need skills
that have never before been part of a college curriculum.
They will have to be effective collaborators, innovators,
risk takers, and communicators, working across shifting
boundaries, and embracing diversity.
Third, they will need to learn continuously throughout
their lifetimes, updating their skills - and sometimes
preparing for entirely new careers. Not many will
take a straight path from pre-school to president.
Fourth, they will need to understand the human and
social dimensions of technology; for example, how
technology can be shaped to suit our needs, as well
as the parameters of decision-making.
And fifth, they will need facility in using contemporary
tools of learning and workplace agility, and be prepared
to embrace tools yet to be.
Community Colleges are out front in efforts to fill
these needs. NSF's vision is to enable the nation's
future through discovery, learning and innovation,
and Community Colleges are helping us realize this
In this context, researchers, educators and innovators
But of course, we are all learners as well. What we
require of our students, we need to practice ourselves.
We must be as knowledgeable, as easy with risk, as
proficient in innovation, as comfortable with inclusiveness,
and as alert to the human and social aspects of our
work as we ask our students and workers to be. Discovery,
learning, and innovation are all reflexive and transitive
Now I want to dig more deeply into the contrast between
pipelines and pathways. In the science and engineering
community, we frequently speak metaphorically of "the
pipeline" that supplies a steady stream of scientists
and engineers to the workforce by moving raw talent
through ever-higher levels of educational attainment.
Others have used less flattering metaphors. Peter Senge,
an MIT management guru who has helped to pioneer the
concept of a "learning organization" has another way
of describing "the pipeline". He says, "Schools may
be the starkest example in modern society of an entire
institution modeled after the assembly line."
That brings to mind the image of Charlie Chaplin in
the film "Modern Times." Although he begins work in
earnest, he is soon hopelessly outpaced and ultimately
defeated by a conveyor belt that seems absolutely
Pipeline thinking has dominated science and engineering
workforce preparation and education for decades. It's
not easy to break the mold and forge new paradigms.
Someone once wisely said, "A habit is something you
can do without thinking - which is why most of us
have so many of them."
But here, as in every other aspect of our society,
we need to question our habits so that innovation
can flourish - as it must. We need to devise fundamentally
new arrangements that convert "the pipeline" into
pathways that are multiple, flexible and adaptable.
I'm sure you're familiar with a common phenomenon on
campuses and in urban parks. No matter where paths
are laid, people inevitably cut new ones. The patterns
of these threadbare tracks appear to be exactly where
paths should have been in the first place.
Cutting these fresh patterns is our challenge in preparing
the 21st century workforce.
This is a tall order, but we can do it. It means keeping
our eyes open to new developments, and experimenting.
We may believe that this is someone else's job. But
we are all in this together - educators, researchers,
and administrators, whether from the private sector,
academe, or government. We all want to be in the vanguard
- to ride the crest of the wave, and not be bowled
over by its force.
Describing the process of discovery, Bertrand Russell
referred to the moment when our vision shifts and
we first see the world from an entirely new perspective
as the "Ah ha! " experience. We need more "ah ha!"
moments to bring our 21st century educational
enterprise into harmony with our 21st century
science and technology. That means a transformation
as revolutionary - and as exhilarating - as the technological
revolution of the past several decades.
Innovation is risky business. Ask anyone in the private
sector! But it's no less necessary because there are
potential pitfalls along the way. Think of it as "adventurous"
rather than "perilous." I couldn't express it any
better than the humorist Will Rodgers did, when he
said, "Sometimes we have to go out on a limb, because
that's where the fruit is."
I'll leave you with that thought. You are
the vanguard of that revolution. It won't happen without