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Dr. Colwell's Remarks


Dr. Rita R. Colwell
National Science Foundation
NSF50 Kick-Off Event: Special Director's Award Ceremony

October 20, 1999

Good morning and welcome, everyone, for the opening kick-off of our NSF 50 celebration. I feel very fortunate to be serving as NSF director as we recognize this great milestone.

I've been told that Dr. Alan Waterman, the first NSF director, used to show up at all the important NSF events with his bagpipes. So I'm conscious that I have a few eccentricities to match.

We're enjoying this opportunity to reflect upon our past. We're also inaugurating a yearlong celebration that will launch NSF into a new millennium of discoveries in science and engineering.

I would like to extend an extra special greeting, the warmest of welcomes to our guest of honor today--who I'm happy also to call my friend--Dr. Samuel Massie. We're fortunate to have you here to honor and to learn from.

I also want to convey special thanks to former NSF director, Dr. Guyford Stever, and to everyone present from the NSF50 Public Advisory Committee for your outstanding service and dedication.

All of us who work in this building look to you and Dr. Massie as the personification of NSF and its mission. This institution is about all of you here today--creative, dynamic, dedicated, and...even inspired!

It would take more than a brief ceremony to convey the difference that NSF's work--your work--has made in people's lives. When President Truman proposed a "national science foundation" in 1948, he delivered what he called a prophecy.

He said, " will change our lives in the century ahead even more than it has changed them in the hundred years just past." How very prescient this observation has proven.

For, just over a half-century later, the prophecy has become a reality. From lasers to MRIs, and from Antarctica to the depths of the sea, and from the brightest, youngest students to Nobel laureates--NSF's reach is obvious to us.

Yet, it always takes on fullest meaning in our wise investment in people. Let me just cite one example: the eminent entomologist Edward O. Wilson. Almost 50 years ago--to be precise, in 1952--NSF awarded its first pre-doctoral and post-doctoral fellowships.

As Edward O. Wilson recalls, "The announcements of the first...fellowships fell like a shower of gold on several of my fellow students in Harvard University's Department of Biology on a Friday morning in the spring of 1952."

He continued, "I was a bit let down because I wasn't among them, but then lifted up again when I received the same good news the following Monday (my letter was late)."

Ed, his cohorts, and following-year classes comprise the extensive and significant alumni of NSF.

We have some good news of our own to anticipate for NSF 50. Next May, we'll have a giant birthday cake celebration in the atrium of our building hosted by the Ballston Partnership.

That will be on May 10--fifty years to the day after the creation of NSF. In June, there will be an NSF 50 picnic organized by NSFEA, NSF FCU, and AFGE Local 3403--the Union.

We're also planning a number of exciting outside projects and events to include the broader realm of those who have been touched by NSF's mission--everyone who has a stake in the nation's scientific future.

We have much to look forward to, thanks in large part to your work and to Guy Stever's leadership. Let me now turn the podium over to Guy, who has so ably headed preparations for our anniversary. Dr. Stever...

Now we'll turn to a brief preview of what we're calling NSF 50 "video vignettes." These are reminiscences and perspectives of staff, past and present.

Think of these as our own NSF "home movies."

A common theme in the interviews comprising these vignettes is the informal and intimate atmosphere here--in contrast to how most would view a government agency.

There's also a shared feeling for a common mission--all working to further fundamental research, without knowing where it will lead, but knowing the eventual result will be worthwhile.

We're commemorating NSF50 with a special poster too, which we'll now unveil. The poster illustrates the theme of our 50th anniversary: "Where Discoveries Begin."

The images range from butterfly wings to radio telescopes, from nanogears to computer visualization, from a Hawaiian volcano to our investment in leading-edge education--the range and rewards of supporting fundamental research and education.

Now we turn to the highlight of our program today. It's my great pleasure to introduce our guest of honor--Dr. Samuel Massie.

The Washington Post singled out Dr. Massie's "breezy modesty that has marked a lifetime of achievements, one that gave him key vantage points to both the development of the atomic bomb and the civil rights turmoil of the 1960s."

His scientific accomplishments are one touchstone. He has carried out research to synthesize drugs against cancer, malaria, tuberculosis, sickle-cell anemia, hypertension, gonorrhea, and herpes.

But Dr. Massie's life work has extended well beyond the laboratory to open up science to broader participation. Dr. Massie's life and work have paved the way for African-American and other minorities in education and in science and engineering.

Dr. Massie's students give some of the best testimony about his teaching...

As he himself said, "My desire is to be known as a teacher who cared about his students, and one who made a difference in their lives."

If you have the good fortune to spend even a short time with Dr. Massie, you'll find that he has a way of conveying wisdom that's impossible to forget. As a sailor myself, I find one of his quotes particularly apt: "No wind is favorable to a sailor who doesn't know to which port he's sailing."

It's clear that Dr. Massie has used a fine sense of navigation to find the most favorable breezes--whether to reach the highest of personal, professional, or societal goals.

Now I'm very pleased to present Dr. Massie with the National Science Foundation's Distinguished Public Service Award.



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