Dr. Rita R. Colwell
NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
Tenth Anniversary of Coalition of EPSCoR States
March 23, 1999
I am delighted to be here at the EPSCoR celebration.
I think all of you know me as a friend.
I am a believer, advocate, supporter, promoter, and
fan of EPSCoR. I want to salute all of you on this
10th anniversary of the Coalition of EPSCoR
The EPSCoR initiative is almost 20 years old in several
states. Without dispute, EPSCoR has evolved into one
of NSF's major and most successful investments. Most
of the credit for that success belongs to you.
Tonight, I want to talk about EPSCoR, its vitality
and success, and, its future.
Throughout history, civilizations have advanced on
the backs of new ideas--unique concepts that have
changed the social order of society in some way.
In America, federal government support of efforts to
serve the "common good" has marked every era of our
We have consistently expanded opportunities to a broader
base of participants, first, by opening the frontier
and granting ownership to anyone willing to develop
Milestones in education include land grant colleges
and universities, higher education benefits for veterans,
and head-start programs to ensure that all our youngsters
are prepared to begin school.
We can proudly add EPSCoR to that list.
As we look back on those ideas and initiatives, it
is hard to imagine opposition to any of those visionary
choices. But at the time, some very smart and highly
respected people dissented.
A classic example of just such a reaction occurred
in 1848, at a crucial moment for a young nation. In
a speech on the Senate floor, Daniel Webster railed
against the acquisition of California and New Mexico.
He said, "I cannot conceive of anything more ridiculous,
more absurd, and more affrontive to all sober judgment
than the cry that we are profitting by the acquisition
of New Mexico and California. I hold that they are
not worth a dollar!"
EPSCoR is not so old that many of us here tonight cannot
remember opposition to the idea. I would say that
California, New Mexico, and EPSCoR have all proven
themselves worthy of the investment.
Nevertheless, it is useful to set down for public record
and historical value the reasons for its establishment.
The geneticist, Maxine Singer, said it succinctly in
an interview with Bill Moyers several years ago. Singer
reminded us, "On any day, if you look at the front
page, half the stories usually have a technical or
scientific component in them. A society that turns
its back on science has to face decay and deterioration."
It is important to note that Singer speaks of the society
"as a whole" and not some narrow and exclusive segment
of society. EPSCoR, in many ways, represents the concept
of the "society as a whole."
It is the expansion and enrichment of research in the
same way that land grant colleges and the GI Bill
of Rights represented the enrichment of higher education
It was established to ensure that America was the beneficiary
of its vast science and engineering talent and capability--a
capability that resides in every corner of our nation.
It is based on the principle that no one region, no
one group of institutions, and no special communities
have a corner on the market of good and great ideas,
smart people, or outstanding researchers.
Great ideas can come from just about anywhere. EPSCoR,
as a concept, grew out of the recognition that inadequate
infrastructure in some educational institutions and
regions was due, in part, to a historical pattern
of lack of federal funding.
It grew much bigger as EPSCoR institutions themselves
devised unique models for partnerships and outreach
that have much broader application.
Beyond these important understandings, EPSCoR was also
an experiment in the way we think about research and
development, as well as, research and education.
We know that good decisions about R&D investments have
always been rooted in two basic principles, peer
review and competition for funds.
These principles underscore EPSCoR's work and have
ensured its success.
In our system of higher education, research and education
were designed to fit together and enhance each other.
But, over time, in some places, these two objectives
became unhitched, to the detriment of both, I would
The principles that undergird EPSCoR represent a mid-course
correction in our larger research system, a system
that had begun to look like a pyramid, with a select
few research-driven institutions at the pinnacle.
EPSCoR provided funds and opportunities to build research
capability across a broader set of institutions. Through
it, we have changed the shape of research in our
higher education system.
From it, we have learned new ways to build stronger
connections between research and education, to enrich
and embolden each.
Your institutions and states have also developed innovative,
even ingenious, ways to tie the fundamental research
in your institutions to the economic and social needs
of your state and regional populations.
In that respect, you serve as models to emulate for
the broader community in higher education. Good ideas
are always worth sharing.
But as we celebrate and congratulate ourselves on the
vitality and success of EPSCoR, we must also remember
that a successful concept is always an evolving concept.
In a dynamic society, rigidity is a sure sign of decline.
We must not be like the cartoon character, Pogo, who
said, "We is faced with insurmountable opportunities."
The future will always be different from the past.
NSF and its constituents must work together to build
on newly developed capabilities to take us to further
Information technologies (IT) have played a transforming
role in every facet of our society. They have been
especially significant for EPSCoR institutions.
IT access and capability have changed the definition
of distant, remote, and isolated.
A new concept of distance and disconnection comes from
being IT poor or deprived.
On the other hand, geographical remoteness disappears
with hook-ups to sophisticated IT networks and systems.
With the creation of Partnerships for Advanced Computational
Infrastructure (PACI), in October 1997, every EPSCoR
state was guaranteed connection to the National Technology
Grid of supercomputers.
This broad inclusion gave all 19 states access to:
- large sophisticated supercomputers
- computer codes, computational techniques, and
the most advanced software
- hundreds of highly skilled computing experts--our
national computing talent pool.
PACI insures inclusion and access. With PACI connection,
every EPSCoR state has been elevated to a new plateau.
The horizon is broader and the opportunities grander
for the nation's entire science and engineering enterprise.
This is a good time to consider how the future will
be different from the past. At NSF, we have put together
a working group on innovation partnerships.
This is being done within the broader context of meeting
the Foundation's goals under GPRA, the Government
Performance and Results Act.
The effort has been spurred by agreement between the
President and the governors to advance innovation
collaborations between the states and the federal
This concept is rooted in the very skills and expertise
developed by EPSCoR participants. All of you have
a great deal to offer.
Collectively, the participants in EPSCoR, ANI (Advanced
Networking Infrastructure), STTR (Small Business Technology
Transfer Research), and other initiatives represent
the memory bank of successful experience in moving
discoveries into the service of society.
It may be that this nest of acronyms has become too
crowded to manage individually.
It may be that they will have a new umbrella-name for
a multifaceted group driven by the common objective
of innovation partnerships.
In the past, EPSCoR has brought us skillful mechanisms
to break down barriers, to unite opposing factions,
to define research agendas that meet state and regional
needs, and then, to address state officials with proposals
that even a miser couldn't refuse.
If you can do all this, you are now ready to do much
more. Let us plan that future together.