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Dr. Colwell's Remarks


"Limitless Opportunities: Dynamic Partnerships - Universities and Schools Making a Difference in K-12 Education"

Dr. Rita R. Colwell
National Science Foundation
AAAS Annual Meeting/Forum for School Science
Seattle, Washington

February 15, 2004

See also slide presentation.

If you're interested in reproducing any of the slides, please contact
The Office of Legislative and Public Affairs: (703) 292-8070.

Thank you, Shirley.1

This annual reunion gives us the opportunity to catch up with colleagues and their latest research. It's good to share inspiration and excitement about 21st century science and engineering.

There is a lot we can learn from each other - ideas and experiences from the symposia -- this one under the stewardship of our very own maverick Shirley Malcom. The free flow of those ideas and information is our most valuable common resource.

Today's Forum is focused on strengthening the resource that fuels the future of our entire S&T enterprise - our Nation's education networks in science and mathematics.

[education slide w/ quote]
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To paraphrase T.S. Eliot -: In our results are our beginnings.

We all know that learning and leadership are dynamically linked in today's knowledge-based, global economy, propelled by advances in science, mathematics, and engineering.

Educational excellence in these critical and convergent fields drives our Nation's innovation, develops our workforce, and ultimately provides for national security and well-being.

[title slide #1]
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Our work today is aimed at future generations of educational excellence. Which brings me to the assigned title of my remarks for our first two panels: "Dynamic Partnerships -- Universities and Schools Making a Difference in K-12 Education."

[title slide #2]
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I had to add two words to that already long title. You can see that it now reads: "Limitless Opportunities: Dynamic Partnerships -- Universities and Schools Making a Difference in K-12 Education." That small change takes our subject from a statement of results toward frontiers of the future!

As we'll hear today, such partnerships are making a positive difference on both sides of the equation - in K-12 and higher education.

Higher education institutions in partnership with local and state school systems and all other stakeholders - families, industry, museums, and government -- are uniquely poised to make critical contributions to the strengthening of mathematics, science and engineering education.

And not just from K through 12, but "K through Gray." The accelerating benefit of these collaborations works across all scales and levels of learning and society.

All institutions vested in higher learning need to leverage their collective strengths for the benefit of the entire educational spectrum, and participate in ongoing support of teachers and students throughout their communities.

[world connections slide]
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The fact is - dynamic partnerships are pervasive models for survival and prosperity in this new century. Everywhere one looks, partnerships are the sum of all the positive differences. Moreover, these partnerships are THE model of the future.

Today, partnerships are transforming not only our communities, but our notion of science itself, by bringing every participant and every discipline into an increasingly interconnected future.

[NSF connections slide]
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That recognition is driving the expansion and integration of collaborations in today's knowledge society. Simply put, we are as strong as our connections, and our skills in building relationships are as important as our skills in biology, chemistry, math, or engineering.

The National Science Foundation is, in essence, a partnership of partnerships. While the NSF itself cannot participate in partnerships, we actively encourage, support and facilitate those unions in a vastly interconnected universe.

The connections that we foster enable the partners to work on projects that are too large, too complex, or too expensive for one group to tackle on their own. And they allow each partner to do what it does best, but still remain a part of something much more diverse and comprehensive in scale.

[Arabadopsis genome slide]
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We also know that establishing partnerships and collaborations can accelerate the pace of scientific discovery. That was clearly the case with the genome sequencing of the model plant Arabadopsis thaliana. The Arabadopsis project included the efforts of 8,000 scientists and 2,500 laboratories in the United States, the European Union and Japan.

[Heller branch flow slide]
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NSF-funded Centers provide an integrated environment for academe and industry to focus on next-generation advances in complex engineered, math, and science systems. The Centers program, (now as large as an extended family), is one of NSF's most highly recognized and successful models for partnership.

As many of you know, to list all the partnerships NSF has promoted over its more than 50-year history would require a speed-announcer of the first order!

[convergent NSF priorities slide]
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NSF's priority areas for targeted investment form a natural platform for partnerships. This year, a major priority area, Workforce for the 21st Century, is directed at attracting and developing the young talent so vital for the next generation of discovery.

[slide not available]
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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 our programs has been a building block in a careful process of creating diversity and creative capacity for the science and engineering workforce.

[slide not available]
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We know that talent runs deep in America, in diverse streams of intellect and perspective. This offers us the potential to accelerate our progress across the frontiers of science, engineering, and technology.

[five girls slide]
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We also know that wanting to broaden the participation of underrepresented minorities and women in science and engineering is just not enough. We must 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.

[IT worker slide]
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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.

But 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, and sometimes retention, of its domestic talent.

[Gibson quote slide]
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As William Gibson, a contemporary science fiction novelist who coined the term "cyberspace" was quoted in the Economist magazine as saying: "The future is already here - it's just unevenly distributed."

[brain thought/converging frontiers slide]
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As a strategic, as well as equitable, policy for societal advancement, we unequivocally need to include far more of our 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.

[girl w/ bubble quote slide]
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President Franklin Roosevelt said in an earlier and no less challenging era: "We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build the youth for our future." Our progress toward greater prosperity in a complex, interrelated and sometimes dangerous world depends increasingly on education.

It is humbling to realize that we could wholeheartedly embrace the great tide of science in our age, yet founder on our simple neglect of learning.

[education slide again]
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As we pursue the goal of universal learning, there are some clear themes already evident.

First, all students today need to know more fundamental science and mathematics than ever before. Science and engineering students must be adept in making connections across disciplines, not just in their own fields. Others need higher levels of math and science literacy in the workplace, and all citizens need a fundamental grasp of science and mathematics to make informed judgments and decisions in our complex society.

Second, students entering the workplace need skills that are not necessarily part of a school or university curriculum. They will have to be effective collaborators, innovators, risk takers, and communicators. They must know how to work across shifting boundaries, and how to embrace a diversity of perspectives. We must rethink and revise our education strategies to meet these needs.

Third, our experience tells us that research and education advance best when conducted together - as partners. Integrating research and education at all educational levels is so important in today's research climate that we have made it a requirement for all grant proposals submitted to the National Science Foundation. Research and education go hand in hand to produce world-class scientists and engineers, as well as a general workforce with science and technological literacy.

Fourth, we must become lifelong students. Each of us will need to learn continuously throughout our lifetime, updating our skills -- and often preparing for entirely new careers. We will need to design new learning paths that encompass work life as well as the classroom.

[science of learning slide]
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Fifth, we need to understand the science of learning -- so that we can reach all age and skill levels. Recently, NSF initiated a new project to establish Science of Learning Centers that will help us understand the diverse ways in which people learn.

These centers will build on advances in the social sciences, computer science, engineering, and neuroscience to investigate, among other things, how the brain stores information, and how best to use information technology to promote learning. The long-term aim is to bring fresh knowledge about how we learn into the classroom, the laboratory, and the workplace.

[human & social dynamics slide]
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And finally, people will need to understand the human and social dimensions of technology - from decision-making on the most productive ways to employ technology as well as how to shape technology to suit human needs. We need to prepare our students to be skilled and comfortable in the various cultures of the global village.

How can we accomplish the multitude of our goals? Through dynamic partnerships that help us revise the education "pipeline" into a pathway of networks that are multiple, flexible, and adaptable.

[visual cortex slide]
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When we look across our full system of education from kindergarten through post-doctoral studies, we recognize that for many practical purposes we segmented and separated our educational hierarchy into convenient components: elementary school, secondary school, undergraduate studies, and graduate education.

This purposeful delineation served important objectives. However, in many ways it created unnatural boundaries among natural partners. As a result, many students have fallen through the gaps between segments.

[Heller quantum art/webbed globe]
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If we can work in partnership with each other, the segments can become, instead, a smooth continuum of knowledge and growth.

This will require that teachers, administrators, and parents reach out to make connections and form bonds across the educational system.

In today's world of rapid change, our demographics are changing, too. By 2050, it is estimated that our nation will be a majority of minorities. Opening the doors of opportunity to our newest citizens is not only the right thing to do; it is the key to our survival.

Our history tells us that we know how to do this. It is how we have built the capacity of our Nation. Generation after generation, we have created opportunities through science and technology.

[global connections slide]
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We can see where the arrows are pointing. Science and mathematics skills are as key to the succeeding generations as reading and writing. How well we prepare each of our students and citizens in these areas will determine how well our nation contributes to both National and global prosperity and can participate in the benefits.

People who do not refresh and advance their skills continually will be left behind. This is why we must do everything we can to spark interest at the earliest ages and opportunities, and retain interest throughout a lifetime.

[IT research collage]
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In our knowledge-based economy, researchers and teachers of math, science, and engineering provide the assets and working capital. We are the switching stations for the transfer of these resources to the next generation.

Through our community flow the necessary skills, concepts, and data that produce a cadre of talented scientists and engineers and make a general workforce capable of running the complex societal engine that is the United States today.

[Heller concentric circles]
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Our system of education is a partnership between our democracy and its citizens, between present knowledge and future discovery. Our job is to explore and continue to drive and energize all our partnerships.

In the end, what is at stake is the contribution of science to society, and the connection between every child's original sense of wonder and the opportunities for expressing that curiosity over a lifetime.

[child at Exploratorium slide]
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We must ensure that every student will be invited to that experience and the sense of accomplishment that accompanies it. We must do this in practices that take into account the whole person, and the sum of teacher/student interactions and networks.

[slide not available]
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As Ortega y Gasset wrote: "The world is the sum-total of our vital possibilities."

What more "dynamic partnership" characterizes humanity than the bridge between the individual mind and the universe?

[Heller quasicrystal slide]
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The quality of the partnerships we forge will determine that our Nation's cutting-edge discovery, competitive excellence, and long-term sustainability remain as strong and full of possibility as ever.

Thank you. I'd be pleased to answer any questions.

But first, I hope you'll allow me one post-script.

[title slide again]
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Today happens to be Galileo's birthday. Two of HIS earliest students, who actually lived in his house, went on respectively to establish the study of hydraulics and invent the barometer!

1 Dr. Shirley Malcom, head of the AAAS Education and Human Resources (EHR) Directorate.
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