Dr. Anne Petersen

Deputy Director
National Science Foundation

Keynote Address

International Conference on Global Tropical Forest Conservation

University of Puerto Rico


Tropical Forest LTER Site

May 30, 1996

Shared Questions -- Linking Our People, Our Environment

Gracias, President Maldonado for your kind introduction, and thank you for your invitation to visit Puerto Rico.

Dr. Neal Lane, Director of the National Science Foundation, has told me numerous times about the warm hospitality he received from you and all the faculty during his visit here last March. I am grateful to finally get the chance to experience it for myself!

I am equally grateful, President Maldonado, to be able to see for myself all the outstanding science here in Puerto Rico. I had previously sampled the wonderful scenery of Puerto Rico on family vacations. The combination of science and scenery makes the Luquillo Tropical Forest LTER Site such an important asset not just for NSF scientists, and not just for the people of Puerto Rico, but for the entire world.

It is wonderful to have representatives from many nations here with us today. I thank each of you representing different nations for joining us here on the lovely island of Puerto Rico. We have many issues to discuss today--but none more important than overall question of how we can foster science and scientific collaboration among the nations of the Americas to help improve the lives and environment of the citizens in each of our respective countries.

That is why I believe that this weekend's workshop on International Long-Term Ecological Research is quite timely. Our unique regional ecosystems--represented in the sites of the LTER network, from the ice of Antarctica, to the deserts of New Mexico, to the rain forests of South America--are critical resources for our future.

Yet as diverse as these resources are, these complex ecosystems--when taken in the aggregate--pose common global scientific questions for researchers regardless of region or nation.

There is no question that science has always been an international exercise among individual scientists. In the eternal quest for new knowledge, researchers for centuries have been able to transcend languages, borders, and cultures.

That process has been increasingly facilitated in contemporary society by advanced transportation and information technologies, with everything from jet travel to simultaneous translation to the Internet. We scientists have always collaborated and shared to work on common questions. The LTER network is an excellent example.

That is why I have titled my remarks, Shared Questions: Linking Our People, Our Environment.

In my talk this afternoon, I want to discuss three key questions:

  1. Question #1. What is the organization and mission of NSF?

    • I know many of you are looking for ways to strengthen the science and technology infrastructure in your own countries so that it is responsive to your people's needs and aspirations. We at NSF know we do not have all the answers, and we work hard to keep improving. But we thought it might be useful to give you some idea of our organization at NSF and our approach to supporting long term research that is embodied in our strategic plan.

  2. Question #2. Promoting Partnerships. How can we encourage greater cooperation, both domestically and internationally?

    • Puerto Rico's Luquillo Tropical Forest is a prime example of a partnership between NSF and another federal agency--the U.S. Forest Service--which allows different, but complementary research to occur at the same site. As part of the LTER network linking the other LTER sites across the globe, the Luquillo site is also a partner with sites from Alaska to Antarctica. By extending this concept world-wide NSF can help foster even more collaboration and cooperation to answer shared questions.

  3. Question # 3. Integrating Research and Education. How can countries build the human resource base needed for maintaining a program of long-term research?

    • Critical to this question is the integration of research performed by scientists both at LTER sites and other laboratories with the education of future generations of researchers. The National Science Foundation is committed to strengthening the natural connections between research and education. This linkage is especially important for developing countries to help stop the so-called "brain drain" of the best and brightest students.

NSF Organization

Let me begin with a broad overview of NSF's organization and philosophy.

NSF was founded in 1950 from an idea generated by the Second World War. Many of those who helped form the NSF were academicians and thus recognized the benefits of conducting the search for new knowledge in an environment of learning. This explicit link between research and education, of discovery and learning, remains a defining part of the NSF mission, just as it does for all institutes of higher learning.

To this day, the parallels and the partnership between NSF and the academic enterprise remain very strong. The next two overheads show a few of the strongest resemblances:

-- Organization Chart

This is how we look as an organization.

First, the most senior position on the chart is not the Director, but the National Science Board, a 24 member body that has many of the responsibilities of a corporate board of directors.

The second point I want to make about this chart is that we are organized much like a university.

  • There are directorates for biological sciences, mathematical and physical sciences, education and human resources, and so on.

  • There are also staff offices that support the Director--this includes the General Counsel and the Office of Legislative and Public Affairs.

As I mentioned, NSF is structured similar to a university--let me elaborate:

-- NSF/University Similarities

  • Disciplinary Structure--NSF's directorates, divisions, and programs follow roughly the same lines as academic departments, such as physics, chemistry, economics, and the like.

  • Cross-Disciplinary Mechanisms--Like most academic institutions, NSF is also experimenting with mechanisms to build links across disciplinary lines. (This is one of the areas for which I have responsibility at NSF.) We do this in a variety of ways-- such as through interdisciplinary areas that include most of NSF's directorates, like global change and environment, manufacturing, and high performance computing and communications. These interdisciplinary areas cut across the disciplinary structure of NSF, and they provide a framework for engaging in partnerships like the International LTER project.

  • People--The people at NSF have very strong ties to the academic community.

-- Most of our program officers come to NSF from academia. In fact, over one-third of our scientists and engineers are what we refer to as rotators--researchers, educators, and administrators on leave for a year or two from academic institutions.

-- We also call upon roughly 60,000 researchers and educators each year to serve as reviewers of proposals--a fact some of you probably know all too well.

  • Research and Education--As I mentioned a moment ago, the other very strong similarity between NSF and academic institutions is the presence of both research and education in our programming. This is a point I'll return to.

Of course another similarity between NSF and a university is the constant search for consistent funding. I'm sure President Maldonado can relate to this similarity.

Strategic Plan

We can't rely on cash strapped governments to provide ever increasing budgets for science and technology. Especially during this time of constrained budgets--and I don't think I've known any other time!--any effective organization must have a reliable direction. NSF is no exception.

Our directions and plans can be found in our Strategic Plan, which is available on our Web site. It is entitled NSF in a Changing World, and the title seems to become more appropriate with each passing day.

The essence of the plan resides in the goals and strategies it establishes.

-- Strategic Plan: Goals

  • First, we will work to maintain and improve the conditions that have consistently led to U.S. world leadership in science and technology.
  • Second, we will promote the use of knowledge in service to society.
  • Our third goal is to promote excellence in education at all levels.

We will work toward these goals by pursuing four key strategies.

-- Strategic Plan: Strategies

  • First is to develop intellectual capital, which means seeking out and supporting the best ideas and most creative people.
  • Our second strategy is to invest in the physical infrastructure needed for research and education--telescopes, particle accelerators, supercomputers, and the like.
  • Third, we will continue to promote partnerships. This is a key strategy for all institutions, today.
  • Our fourth strategy is the integration of research and education. We believe it is key to positioning NSF and universities for society's future needs.

I want to concentrate on the third and fourth strategies in the remainder of my talk.

Promoting Partnerships

We realize that NSF does not sit in isolation. We cannot promote the advancement of scientific knowledge without working closely with all organizations and individuals who share this goal. This is why NSF puts such emphasis on promoting partnerships both within the United States--the private sector and other government agencies--and internationally. This morning showed clearly that those of you from Puerto Rico are highly skilled with partnerships!

The LTER program serves as an excellent model for demonstrating how NSF works to promote partnerships. There are 18 sites from Alaska to Antarctica that constitute a unique network. NSF supports the LTER network to address long-term ecological questions and problems.

However, more immediate questions concerning the effective use of natural resources are not neglected. Most of these sites are also sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service, an agency that concentrates on shorter-term research goals that include forest management and sustainable development of forest resources. This makes these LTER sites-- including the Luquillo Tropical Forest--an important example of how more fundamental research can be combined with research on sustainable development.

-- Map of North American LTER Sites

Here is a map showing the location of the 16 NSF-supported LTER sites in North America. As you can see, the sites are scattered all over the country covering a diverse number of distinct ecosystems. The LTER network extends across the globe from the tundra of Alaska to two sites in Antarctica as well, for 18 total.

One of the most unique aspects of the LTER program is that it is a network, allowing scientists to share common research goals among the 18 sites located in ecosystems ranging from deserts to oceans and from sea level to mountain peaks. The commitment to shared research allows the LTER network to formulate basic ecological principles that apply in many systems around the world, while developing network-wide experiments to address specific questions.

LTER sites are an important opportunity not only for the sharing of research on natural resources, but also providing a key opportunity for the training and development of the next generation of scientists and engineers. These students represent the vital human resources that any country needs to maintain a research and development program.

Linking Research with Education

There is little doubt that if the nations of the Americas are going to build their capability in research and development, we must start with the education of the youngest generation. And we at NSF believe that the most effective education for science and technology is that linked to inquiry or research.

Let me read one of the goals in the Cartagena Declaration and Plan of Action recently agreed to in March by the Ministers of Science and Technology of the nations of the Summit of the Americas. It reads:

Cartagena Declaration and Plan of Action

"Formulation and implementation of national policies for the development of science and technology is of the utmost importance. Such policies should address the education and ongoing training of human resources..." 1

No issue is as vital to the future of research as the balance between research and education. One of the great strengths of the U.S. system of research has been the ability of universities to link the creation of new knowledge with the transfer of that knowledge to students.

All signs make clear that the integration of research and education deserves greater emphasis both in the U.S. and internationally. Today's students will spend their careers in a 21st Century global workplace that presents complex and open-ended challenges. The students who will thrive in this environment are those who have been educated in a discovery-rich environment and who have learned how to learn.

Learning and discovery are truly inseparable processes, and both lie at the heart of NSF's mission in research and education. We also know that the 21st Century workforce will require talents and skills--such as solving complex problems, dealing with uncertainty, and probing the unknown--that are best acquired through research-based learning experiences.

Linking research and education is also--I believe--critical to building the human resource base in the Americas. As the Cartagena Declaration shows, all nations in the Hemisphere are searching to answer a common problem: How do we build a 21st Century workforce that will enable our nations to thrive and prosper? The answer is for the nations of the Americas to adopt policies that will encourage the training and retention of future generations of scientists and engineers. This can only be accomplished with a blending and linking of our research--research on issues critical to the Hemisphere such as the environment and global change--with the education of the youngest minds.

And so, let me return to my title, Shared Questions: Linking Our People, Our Environment. By, shared questions I mean recognizing the importance of defining those unsolved problems common to all peoples that international scientific cooperation can and should address. And, by Linking Our People, Our Environment I acknowledge that we must take advantage of the unique cultural qualities of all parts of the globe in order to answer these questions. By means of this delicate balancing we can, define a global agenda for scientific research with clear overarching direction in which all of us have a role and responsibility.

Ever since humans left the confines of this planet to venture into space more than three and one-half decades ago, the limited circle of our globe and the even tighter circle of our dependency on each other have emerged in a clearer light. The first photographs of Earth taken from space spoke not only of our shape and size in the vast universe, but of our singularity and our unity.

Although we all have national allegiances, and regional alliances, we are linked together more and more. The International LTER program serves as a prime example.

The major problems facing the whole global society are, for the most part, human problems. They emerge out of complex patterns of overlapping consequences. We do not have choices between protecting the environment, providing food and energy, addressing overpopulation, and the like. They are all needs on a common tableau and operate in fluctuating balances over time.

In conclusion, our task in the research community is to thoroughly investigate our individual and shared scientific endeavors, with an eye and an ear poised toward other disciplines and their queries. And simultaneously, all of us must help define and address the mutual issues and problems that determine our survival and success on the planet.

We represent a wonderfully diverse conglomerate of nations, and a group of several unique ecosystems and continents. Ultimately, however, we are in the end, a single human community with common questions to answer and one environment: there is no escaping the fact that we reside on a planet of modest size and fragile structure.

I want to thank you again for inviting me to this opening of the International LTER workshop, and I look forward to meeting more of you today. And I hope those of you wanting to learn more about NSF will visit us. We always welcome visitors, including those from other nations.

Muchas gracias!

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