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Photo of Dr. France A. Córdova

Photo by NSF/
Stephen Voss

Dr. France A. Córdova
National Science Foundation


At the 25th LSAMP Research Symposium
National Harbor, Maryland

February 23, 2016

Thank you for the opportunity to be here on this special occasion -- the 25th anniversary of the launch of the National Science Foundation's Alliances for Minority Participation.

May I take a moment to recognize some special participants who are with us today:

  • Dr. Carolyn Meyers, President of Jackson State University, and a member of NSF's Education and Human Resources Advisory Committee;
  • Dr. Tom Rudin from the National Academy of Science; and
  • Dr. Leroy Jones, of the Louis Stokes Midwest Center of Excellence.

Today is also a special day on which we mark the birthday of one of AMP's strongest advocates, Representative Louis Stokes, who would have turned 91 today. We were all saddened when Rep. Stokes passed away a few months ago. I had the honor of meeting and talking with him when I was NASA's Chief Scientist in the 1990s.

Because of his many contributions to education at large, including AMP, over the course of his Congressional career, when he retired from Congress in 1999, the program was renamed the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation -- or LSAMP.

At the time of Rep. Stokes' passing, President Obama paid homage to him, noting that while the Congressman faced hardships growing up in Cleveland, those experiences imbued him with the belief that everyone should have the chance to succeed. The President said, "Lou leaves behind an indelible legacy in the countless generations of young leaders that he inspired."

His legacy has been enormous indeed, and I will address that legacy in a moment.

I would also like to take a moment to honor another tireless advocate for the Alliances for Minority Participation program, one of my predecessors at NSF -- Director Walter Massey -- who was "present at the creation" of AMP a quarter century ago.

The initiative he championed was intended to address one of the great challenges of our time -- growing the talent pool of historically underrepresented groups from which our nation can draw in order to develop tomorrow's technology leaders. That effort was supported by the National Science Board and approved by the U.S. Congress in 1991.

Director Massey has been back in the news recently as the NSF Director who approved funding for one of the largest and most ambitious projects ever funded by the NSF -- the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory -- or LIGO.

That investment paid off just a few days ago when LIGO scientists announced they had observed gravitational waves, confirming a prediction of Albert Einstein's 1915 general theory of relativity. I'm sure you saw some of the very positive press coverage about the discovery. I was very pleased to discover that an LSAMP student -- William Parker -- was at the Livingston, Louisiana, LIGO site and witnessed the gravity wave breakthrough!

I know I need not point out to this audience that Dr. Massey was not just a visionary NSF Director and an acclaimed physicist, he was also only the second African-American to serve as NSF Director. He was -- and is -- the embodiment of the promise that LSAMP has always represented -- to encourage promising scholars from historically underrepresented groups to "aim high and make a difference."

Both Rep. Stokes and Director Massey proved, by their individual efforts, just how great the contributions of under-represented individuals can be, if they only have the opportunities to do so. In fact, NSF has long embraced the need for more pro-active and innovative ways to increase women and minority representation in STEM fields, dating back to the 1970s, when our work concentrated on enhancing teaching, providing fellowships, and developing traineeships at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

NSF supports curiosity-driven, transformative science. And we do this in an inclusive environment that supports women -- and men -- at the beginning of their careers, especially with LSAMP and our Graduate Research Fellowships Program. Both these programs have provided mechanisms for increasing the participation of women, minorities, persons with disabilities, and veterans in science and engineering.

NSF embraces these and other grand challenges with enthusiasm and confidence. We continue to devote considerable resources to support institutions as they develop the next generation of leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

It is widely recognized that STEM fields are the primary drivers of American competitiveness in an increasingly global economy. Research shows that more than half of U.S. economic growth over the last 50 years has resulted from improved productivity brought about by STEM-led innovations.

NSF believes we all need to open the door wider to a greater number of untapped populations, giving all the nation's citizens a shot at participating in the technological revolutions that are transforming our economy. NSF is proud to support LSAMP because it does that -- and does it well. NSF celebrates the fact that LSAMP has been writing its own legendary success story for 25 years.

During its first year, the program awarded grants to six alliances -- and today the program has grown to 45 active alliances, with approximately 600 two- and four-year partner institutions. Those alliances are scattered across the country, including Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.

They also include four "Bridge to the Baccalaureate" alliances in Florida, Texas, New Jersey and North Carolina. In addition, there are "Bridge to the Doctorate" activities at more than 58 institutions across 21 alliances that are widely distributed across the nation.

Alliances partner with local industries, national labs, and other non-profit organizations that offer Research Experiences for Undergraduates -- REU -- activities at DOE National Labs, Organization of Tropical Studies, and Native American & Pacific Islanders Research Experiences -- NAPIRE -- in Costa Rica.

All told, about 500,000 underrepresented students have earned STEM degrees from LSAMP institutions -- a very impressive number and an indication of just how great an impact LSAMP is having among underrepresented racial/ethnic groups. Tens of thousands of students are being helped each year by the sustained and impactful work that LSAMP institutions and project directors are conducting.

And those figures do not include the enormous benefits that such intensive educational efforts will have on the students and on the results of the research they are carrying out -- which will improve health and safety, boost industrial productivity and enhance environmental protection for our Nation and the world at large.

For example, consider for a moment the 500,000 young people from LSAMP institutions I just mentioned. At one time in our history, that number would be larger than all the STEM-educated people in the country.

Today, they compose a powerful cadre of ambitious and talented young people who are determined to make their mark on America.

LSAMP has been more than just a "stepping stone" for them to achieve better careers and realize better opportunities in life, it is also been a focused effort to draw upon a tremendously important and growing segment of American society. Think of all these talented young people with so much to offer who just needed the guidance and the encouragement to bring their creativity and energy to benefit the STEM community.

Truly, LSAMP has proven itself to be a "national treasure" for everyone involved. Plus, with its 25 years of experience successfully broadening participation alliances, LSAMP is well positioned to serve as a bridge to NSF's new INCLUDES initiative, which was published only yesterday.

INCLUDES will fund alliances and create a national infrastructure for an integrated, national network to increase the preparation, participation, advancement, and potential contributions of those who have been traditionally underserved and/or underrepresented in the STEM enterprise. The idea is to scale up current, local efforts to have a broader impact.

INCLUDES participants will benefit from what LSAMP alliances are already doing, incorporating knowledge-generating research studies as part of their alliance activities. The results of these research studies will add to the knowledge base and contribute to our understanding of how the alliances have been effective in broadening participation.

I am about to issue a call to university presidents and chancellors to put forward bold proposals for INCLUDES initiatives that go beyond the university, that bring together larger communities in this effort. I expect that LSAMP will become an integral part of the INCLUDES effort.

Let me close my remarks with two brief observations.

First -- I would like to congratulate all of you here today -- administrators, professors, researchers, and most importantly, the students -- who are working so hard to succeed and who will, as STEM graduates, contribute to driving the economy, protecting our nation, and helping sustain the U.S. position as a global leader.

YOU are the ones who have made LSAMP such a success over its quarter-century of existence, and no doubt you are building the vital infrastructure of new students and Alliances that will continue to make LSAMP an even greater success in the future.

And lastly, let me return to Rep. Stokes and his legacy. I know there are numerous buildings and institutional centers dedicated to the Congressman's memory -- and that is entirely appropriate. And Louis Stokes lives on in this wonderful program named after him, which he did so much to foster and encourage.

But I believe Rep. Stokes' true legacy resides in the people in this room and those who have benefited from LSAMP's support.

Look around you...look around this room...everyone here has had his or her life changed by Rep. Stokes' mentoring, leadership, and guidance. Everyone here has been touched by his generosity, amused by his good humor, helped by his wisdom, and awed by his dedication to excellence and his love of life.

In that spirit, may I say thank you again for the opportunity to be part of this special event, and I wish you all a very productive symposium.