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Image 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger explodes Image of a comet NSB Chair Schmitt - NSF Director Bloch
The National Science Board - A History in Highlights, 1950-2000
Table of Contents | Preface | Acknowledgements | Former Members | Exec Secretaries/Officers | Timeline

New Director Stresses Diversity

Education and workforce issues were high priorities for the two men who took the agency's top jobs in 1984. In May, physicist Roland W. Schmitt, a two-year member of the Board and senior vice president for research and development at General Electric Company, was elected Board Chair. Following the sudden departure of Director Edward Knapp, President Reagan promoted Erich Bloch from Deputy Director-designate to the Director's post. Bloch was a hard-driving IBM engineer who had managed the development and manufacture of the IBM System 360 computer technology.

All of a sudden, the Foundation had acquired a pair of leaders from industry. Bloch and Schmitt got along well and thought similarly about changes needed at NSF. Homer A. Neal, whose Board panel was devising the Foundation's undergraduate initiatives at this time, describes Bloch's results-oriented style this way: "Bloch would sit in our meetings. Sometimes he would pick up on something and carry it out before we had finished."

Part of Bloch's agenda was to help more people in underrepresented groups-minorities, women, and persons with disabilities-join America's scientific and technical workforce, including those doing advanced research. This meant increasing the numbers of these individuals who completed a K-12 mathematics/science curriculum.

Such an ambitious goal required enormous change for the Foundation, including the identification and recruitment of qualified professionals from these groups to NSF staff positions and to advisory and merit review panels. Overseeing this effort for the Board from 1984 to 1986 was Simon Ramo, co-founder of aerospace giant TRW, Inc. Ramo agreed to head the Board's Education and Human Resources (EHR) Committee because, he told Schmitt, "that's the future." Minutes of Ramo's EHR Committee meetings show that managers from all parts of NSF were systematically called on to explain exactly what steps they were taking to satisfy the new diversity mandate.

Bloch argued that diversifying the technical workforce was particularly urgent in light of limited numbers of qualified Americans to fill available jobs. The Office of Technology Assessment would later sharply criticize the data behind the "shortfall" argument, but Walter Massey, a Board member in the 1980s and the Foundation's second African American director, credits Bloch and the Board with opening the door to wider participation by underrepresented groups. The diversity campaign gained clout when programs such as EPSCoR were consolidated with programs for minorities in the renamed Education and Human Resources Directorate.

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