Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Chief Operating Officer
National Science Foundation
Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring
May 7, 2004
Good morning to all of you. I have the honor of greeting you for a second
time, and the distinct pleasure of telling you how truly inspiring it is
for us to have you here.
Yesterday, we celebrated your achievements. Each of you received
a well-deserved award for your excellence in mentoring. For your
good deeds, your prize today is sitting patiently through these
I have heard that a university president once gave a prospective
commencement speaker this bit of advice: "Think of yourself
as the body at a wake" he said. "They need you in order
to have the party, but no one expects you to say very much."
Joking aside, you are here today to do one of the things you do
best: mentoring. Successful learning experiences are giving and
taking in a spirit of mutual compassion and civility. I'm certain
each of you has discovered that we learn from our students as much
as our students learn from us. Mentoring is a partnership—a
deeply collaborative process. Today, you will begin to learn from
each other how you each do the business of mentoring, and explore
ways to bring the joy of mentoring to others. We hope this interaction
will grow robustly into the future.
What you do is very serious business indeed—for every student
you mentor and for the nation's future. I want to expand on this
two-fold value you contribute to learning.
I'll begin with the value you bring to students. First and foremost,
this is not imparting facts and content, though that is surely
important. And it isn't principally instilling broader skills,
though that is significant as well. Mentoring is the much more
difficult—and rewarding—process of discovering, through
interaction, the wellspring of the student's curiosity and enthusiasm,
and then nourishing both.
The late Nathan Pusey, Harvard's long-serving President during
the nineteen fifties and sixties, put it this way: "through
sympathy, emotion, imagination and patience, to awaken in the learner
the restless drive for answers and insights which enlarge the personal
life and give it meaning."1 That is what you do, and you are
the best there is! Today, we might call this "sustainable" learning—learning
that ultimately rests on a personal quest, a mission that lasts
I know from my own experience that mentoring takes place in almost
as many ways as there are mentors. That isn't surprising once we
recognize that each mentor brings something personal and therefore
authentic to the partnership. This facet of mentoring, more than
any rubric or rules, is what helps students flourish and awakens
As if inspiring such a quest in students were not enough, you
also bring value to the nation. Science, mathematics, engineering
and technology play an ever-expanding role in our contemporary
society. Every citizen needs to understand more science and mathematics
to participate fully in the life of the nation—both in order
to contribute to our common prosperity and to enjoy its benefits.
As mentors, you understand that students today require new capabilities
and skills. These capabilities and skills cannot be acquired through
production-line education that turns students into commodities.
We want to create an educational environment that attracts and
encourages students from the nation's full diversity of talent.
We want to inspire them to pursue studies in science and engineering
and help them to stay the course. We want them to fully realize
their respective talents and aspirations.
You have done this brilliantly. Now we need to find ways and means
to make this the vanguard of a larger revolution in education that
will rally still more educators and researchers behind the mentoring
banner. Your work today and beyond can do just that. We need you
to stay connected and work to create a mentoring movement that
is greater and more profound than the sum of it wonderful parts.
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 generosity and determination to awakening
these gifts in those you mentor, and for your commitment to carry
forward together the singular asset you bring to our nation.
1 Nathan M. Pusey, Former President, Harvard; NY Times 22 March 1959.
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