Audacious Faith in the Future 1
Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Chief Operating Officer
National Science Foundation
Remarks, Awards for the Integration of Research and Education in the 21st Century
February 27, 2004
Thank you, Provost Meyers, and good evening everyone. I am always delighted
to visit North Carolina A&T. This university not only challenges its
students and faculty to excel, it makes the entire academic community sit
up and take notice.
I am particularly honored to speak to this distinguished--and
passionate--gathering of scientists, engineers, and educators
involved in the HBCU-Undergraduate Program. Please note that I
make no distinction between students and faculty, junior or senior.
All of us who pursue discovery at and across the frontier of knowledge
belong to the same community of researchers and educators. We all
have something to teach and something to learn from each other.
I applaud each of you--for the curiosity that drives you
to investigate unresolved mysteries, for the imagination you use
to unveil them, for your determination to see the job through,
for your creativity in making things, for your wisdom in seeing
the value of coupling disciplines across their interfaces and above
all for your commitment to making the science and engineering enterprise
an inclusive and integrative endeavor.
These qualities are not only commendable; they are increasingly
indispensable in our rapidly changing, contemporary society. Our
new knowledge-based society places a premium on creativity, innovation,
and ensuring the whole is greater than the sum of the parts--a
veritable fever of curiosity and realizing ideals that explodes
old paradigms with astonishing insights.
The National Science Foundation, the federal agency where I work,
understands that these characteristics are vital to the nation's
science and engineering enterprise and, in fact, to the overall
future of the nation. Our vision statement reflects that. It is
crisp and direct: "Enabling the nation's future through discovery,
learning, and innovation."
In thinking about my remarks for this evening, uppermost in my
mind was how important you are to that vision. I want to emphasize
both what you bring to science and engineering in particular and
more broadly to society and the world you are helping to shape.
Now, I know I'm the only thing standing between dinner and the
Gym Jam, so I'll try to be brief!
I've taken a phrase from Dr. Martin Luther Kings' Nobel acceptance
speech, delivered forty years ago, as a theme for my remarks this
evening. "I accept this award today," he said, "with
an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future..."
In today's complex world, I like to think he would understand
well the challenges that continue to confront our society. With
his "audacious faith in the future," I believe he would
seize on each, not as a cause for dismay, but as a powerful force
Discovery, learning and innovation are all about the future. They,
too, are powerful forces for progress. To continually cross boundaries,
explore as yet unimagined territory, and find fresh paths to common
aims require daring, boldness, linking and a taste for adventure.
These are risky undertakings, so we must also find courage, grit,
and determination to see us through. In other words, as scientists,
engineers, mathematicians and educators, we also need to foster
an audacious faith in the future.
Doing so will require us to strengthen our reliance on mutual
aspirations and to renew our confidence in the capabilities of
human beings to work together toward common goals.
That is because our engagement with science and engineering is
a community enterprise, not a solitary sport. This is so for a
number of reasons. Let me give you four. First, we need all the
talent we can muster to advance the frontier and put it to use
in a rapidly changing research and education environment.
Second, purported advances must pass the test of community verification
and consensus. In our quest for reliable, robust, collective knowledge,
new ideas continually jostle with the old and often replace them
with fresh perspectives. We need the community to recognize the
potential in these emerging trends and embrace and shape them with
Third, consensus requires sharing data, methods and information.
Openness is the archenemy of ignorance. Banish ignorance, bit by
bit, and our path to the future becomes smoother and brighter.
Fourth, the best of science and engineering serve society's needs
and aspirations. All of us desire to do something with our lives
that makes a difference. If we cease to believe that our intellectual
pursuits can change the world, something vital and visceral will
be lost to us. The audacity comes with believing that we can actually
contribute through our research and education activities! And,
of course, we can.
By now, you know that I am speaking not only about values in science,
engineering, and mathematics, but also about those crucial to realizing
broader social aims. There is not much joy in discovery and exploration
without the aim of providing a better life for humankind and a
safer, healthier planet.
I am confident that each of you here tonight will make many contributions
to the commonweal, and will shape a future that is challenging
and rewarding, a future that provides you every opportunity to
create the life--and the world--you imagine. I am
going to turn now to one feature of that world that my own faith
in the future leads me to believe you will shape to serve society's
The world is changing at a breathtaking pace. As we speed into
the 21st Century, sophisticated and complex technologies, and their
couplings with each other increasingly permeate our lives. They
are changing our institutions, and making our world smaller. I
don't have to remind this group that the level of knowledge and
skills needed to flourish is growing at an accelerating rate, making
lifelong learning an exciting fact of life. We can actually have
a lot of fun in this heady atmosphere.
For starters, today's scientists and engineers, at any age and
in every sector--need additional capabilities that enable
them to work robustly across boundaries, to handle ambiguity, to
integrate, to innovate, to communicate and to cooperate. We want
to create an environment that attracts an eclectic and diverse
array of students to pursue studies in science and engineering,
and that encourages them to stay the course. We need a variety
of learning paths that support creative, world-class scientists
These are components of a holistic education that not only suits
the science and engineering of our times, but also thrives on diversity.
The differences in race, ethnicity, and gender that abound in our
society are a positive force to spur this creativity and dynamism.
The divisions will only hold us back and sap our energy until we
To cope with these challenges and ensure our common prosperity,
we will need the talents of everyone. We can't afford to leave
a single person behind. In particular, we need to foster the strength
that diversity brings to our national purpose. Diversity is our
nation's competitive advantage, and we must capitalize on it.
It is our collective necessity to encourage and educate citizens
so that they can participate in and lead the new knowledge economy,
contribute to social well being, and safeguard the basic values
of our society. That is no small task!
In our knowledge-intensive society, we need to capitalize on all
available intellectual talent--not only to move forward but
also to keep our nation humming. Although we are making inroads,
we have not yet seriously tapped the nation's full talent pool.
Now we are playing catch up in a very competitive world. We need
to understand that diversity is an asset and dissimilarity a valuable
component of progress.
We all recognize that greater diversity in the science and engineering
community is vital to our nation's prosperity and security. We
understand how including the full gamut of intellectual perspectives
and talent gives us an edge in discovery and innovation. And we
know that embracing diversity is not only a strategic competitive
advantage, but it is also the right thing to do.
We can celebrate the clear progress we have made on many fronts.
Yes, there is more diversity in the science and engineering workforce
compared to thirty years ago, and there are some people who know
how to make it so. Yet the fact remains that years of dialogue
and effort have not produced the surge in forward momentum that
is necessary--and increasingly urgent--to reach our objectives.
Recognizing, understanding and embracing are not enough. Our success
depends on making it happen, big time.
There is still a significant chasm between science and society
that we need to bridge. We need to be absolutely clear about our
common aims, and then move decisively beyond agreement to collaborative
How we get the job done is by no means straightforward. Our world--like
the science and engineering of our times--is increasingly
complex and dynamic. The challenge of diversity is no exception.
Accelerating our efforts to meet this challenge will require, for
starters, a refined and sophisticated posing of the questions we
should be asking.
Within this context, NSF has a commitment to build a science and
engineering workforce that is both inclusive, diverse, and prepared
to meet challenges we cannot yet image. This is at the very core
of our mission, which is as much about preparing a world-class
workforce as it is about discovery.
The National Science Foundation is a partner with you in meeting
these formidable challenges, but we cannot do it alone. We are
frequently asked, "What is NSF doing to solve these problems?" NSF
is certainly a willing and able player, as it should be. Our statutory
mandate explicitly includes the responsibility to broaden participation
in science and engineering research and education. That means taking
action, not just talking—we identify and support innovative
programs, like the HBCU-Undergraduate Program, to name only one.
But we are by no means capable of addressing all the issues single-handedly.
Talent runs deep in America, in broad streams of intellect, perspective,
and culture. We possess tantalizing potential, but we have not
yet learned how to help all individuals realize their promise.
When we understand that diversity is the lifeblood of progress
and prosperity, it becomes the nation's responsibility--and
that includes all of us. Every sector and every citizen has something
to offer. We will realize our goals sooner if we all work together
It is the varied, richly textured and shaded fabric of diversity--not
any single thread--that provides durability and strength to
our science and engineering enterprise--and thus to our nation.
Diversity--once given scope and opportunity--has the
potential to shape, to transform, and to drive our future for the
That is where you come in. Without you, the future is dim. With
you, the future sparkles.
Let me turn once again for inspiration to Dr. King's Nobel acceptance
speech. "I refuse," he said, "to accept despair
as the final response to the ambiguities of history."
In that spirit of audacious faith in the capability of humans
to shape change rather than accept its vagaries, I urge you all
to explore and couple new frontiers--in science and engineering,
certainly, but also in education and in every institution that
may better the prospects for humankind, both in our nation and
globally. I urge you to forge new partnerships so that your vision
and perspectives can reach further to enrich and mold our common
future. Our willingness and capability to transform our institutions
and ourselves are the vital sparks that will fire a revolution
not only in the research and education community, but also around
I'll leave you with that thought. You are the vanguard of the
future, the architects of change. It won't happen without you.
1 Martin Luther King, Jr., Nobel Acceptance Speech, Dec. 10, 1964, Oslo, Norway.
Return to speech
Return to a list of Dr. Bordogna's speeches.