"A Conduit of Continuous Learning"
Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Chief Operating Officer
National Science Foundation
Remarks, Commencement Address
State University of New York Institute of Technology
May 15, 2004
Thank you, President Somerville, and good morning to all. It is an honor
and my pleasure to greet you on this day of celebration at the State University
of New York-Institute of Technology. I offer congratulations to you, the
graduates: This is the day you commence your future.
To the families and friends, especially to the parents who share
in today's joy: you deserve congratulations, also. I think back
to my own commencement. I was the first in a large family, both
birth and foster, to graduate from college, so graduation day was
a very big deal—they all came and celebrated, at moments
rather boisterously, I have to say. The families here today know
that it’s their moment of glory, too!
To the graduates: You have worked hard to achieve this milestone.
Many of you have worked long hours at jobs as well as at your studies,
and cared for children and others while pursuing your degrees.
Many of you are committed to your roots in the Mohawk Valley and
are eager to play dynamic roles in its future. With your new skills,
you are well-poised at this exciting juncture and ready to grasp
the opportunity before you.
The beautiful valley that cradles this campus has a venerable
historic heritage, reaching back to our nation's founding. As you
know, this region played a pivotal role in the American Revolution
and went on to make important contributions to our nation's transportation
Personally, this region touched me when I was a young engineer
at RCA Corporation and visited the prestigious Rome Air Development
Center in my work. I know well that scholarship and industrial
innovation in science and engineering have a proud foundation in
Today, a new window of opportunity is opening. For the past two
decades, this region has elected a representative to Congress,
Sherry Boehlert, who has a deep understanding of how science and
engineering buttress our nation's future.
As chair of the Committee on Science in the House of Representatives
in Washington, Sherry has worked with courage and integrity to
strengthen institutions like SUNYIT. He is committed to ensuring
that the region's residents receive a 21st century education so
vital to opening a new era of economic strength. With his leadership,
new frontiers of the mind will open and yield fresh fortune built
on your historical technological foundation.
Just recently, a local landmark was rediscovered in Utica that
testifies to this region's historic, economic dynamism. A SUNYIT
engineering professor, Andrew Wolfe, recently led a group of students
to a site in Utica that was overgrown with vegetation. They cleared
away brush and debris to expose an old lock of the Chenango Canal.
This waterway once fed into the Erie Canal—the conduit that
brought prosperity to cities from one end of the state to the other.
"The Erie Canal," as historians remind us, "proved
to be the key that unlocked an enormous series of social and economic
changes in the young nation." As you know, it followed the
natural gateway of the Mohawk Valley through the Appalachian Mountains
to open up the country to westward migration.
Today, revolutionary innovations in transportation and communication
networks stand poised to energize economic growth – tying
us together not only as a nation but around the globe. The stone
and earthwork canals of the past have given way to virtual networks
as the backbone of our future economy. This is the era not of the
canal but of cyberinfrastructure. We speak of a "knowledge
economy" –based on strong investment in the fundamental
research that spawns innovation and accelerates communications
and combinations. Graduates like you stand ready to embrace the
challenges and opportunities of change, complexity, and interconnection.
Today, more than ever before, we recognize that universities such
as SUNYIT, their faculty and graduates, are critical resources
that can make a valuable contribution to economic development – much
the same way that agricultural, industrial and natural resources
did in the 19th and 20th centuries. The development of a four-year
engineering degree here at SUNYIT embodies that forward-looking
vision. New knowledge at the frontier of research and learning
is our new capital, our engine of innovation. When students become
part of this research, they learn the problem-solving skills that
We also recognize that we can design partnerships – among
universities, colleges, and community colleges, business and government – to
speed the transformation of new knowledge into new products, processes
and services, and in their wake produce new jobs and create wealth.
All of this has great resonance for you as graduates. Technological
innovation, fed by new discoveries, has connected our nation to
the world in profound new ways. The level of knowledge needed to
flourish today in this interconnected world is growing at an accelerating
It has been said that "Learning is what most adults will
do for a living in the 21st century." We're already there,
and the need for lifelong learning is an exciting fact of life.
Students who graduate today—all of you—will experience
a number of changes in your career paths over your lifetimes. Whether
you pursue engineering, scientific, medical, business or humanities
careers, you will be continuously charting new territory. And those
who prepare you for this dynamic world will be just one step ahead.
Learning, and the discovery of new knowledge at the frontiers
of the human mind—also known as research--are inseparable.
At the National Science Foundation, we are investing in a new science—the "science
of learning" research that probes the fundamental processes
that underlie learning. The insights and technologies that result
will make us all better "lifelong learners."
Insights about how the brain works are now coming to the classroom.
As neuroscientist Richard Restak says, "In the past 20 years,
scientists have learned more about the brain than they have in
the previous two hundred."
Take MRI—the medical scanning technique otherwise known
as magnetic resonance imaging. It is now being used to map the
functioning of the brain. With MRI, researchers have identified
key regions in the brain that are critical to learning mathematics.
The patterns of learning are traced in the brains of middle school
students who are learning algebra. Here is a new threshold of "mind-reading." For
the first time, we can begin to trace how individual students learn
in unique ways—and what works best for each one.
Today, a major conduit of knowledge and economic opportunity—a
virtual "Erie Canal"—is information technology,
offering the riches of the world's knowledge to every classroom
and every home, at any time in our lives. Our increasingly interconnected
world offers growing opportunities for people to work at high-tech
jobs no matter where they live, from the Silicon Valley to the
Mohawk Valley. We need citizens savvy in information-tech to engineer
computer systems we can trust—systems that support our electric
power grid, our business investments and our medical care. The
new term for this is "information assurance."
A number of you are graduating with degrees in health care, a
sector of huge importance to our economy which is more than ripe
for an infusion of reliable and secure information systems. Today,
only about 5% of doctors store patient data on networked medical
record systems. They simply do not trust computerized records to
be both correct and private. Electronic medical records also make
economic sense. It is estimated that good info tech could save
$140 billion a year—ten percent of what we now spend on health
A partnership centered right here is now promoting information
assurance training and education. SUNYIT, Utica College, Syracuse
University, and the Herkimer County and Mohawk Valley Community
Colleges--supported by the National Science Foundation--are collaborating
to teach "cyber-cops, system analysts, and... programmers." Students
will be able to follow multiple educational pathways among the
institutions, ranging from going into law enforcement to pursuing
doctorates in information technology.
Such partnerships between academe and industry are beacons for
students who want to develop skills to shape this new world. This
summer, 50 high-schoolers from groups that are underrepresented
in science and technology careers will pursue information technology
internships through the program.
As Heather Dussault puts it—she's at the Griffis Institute
as well as being a SUNYIT professor—"We want to be the
catalyst to bring together the public and private sectors--to develop
innovative programs, create new jobs, and help our students realize
their dreams." Here is a wonderful example of how 21st century
learning through collaboration has great potential to promote economic
progress—and fulfill individual dreams in the process.
Today is commencement day, but-to paraphrase the playwright Lillian
Hellman—nothing begins at the time you think it did. Commencement
of your dreams as graduates has, in fact, already begun, and your
learning for a lifetime is already underway. The Erie Canal has
been called "the first engineering school in America," because
the canal designers had to learn on the job. May you continuously
learn throughout your lives to make sure that you are always capable
of shaping the kind of world in which you want to live.
Wisdom lies in knowing what to prepare for, but equally in preparing
for the unknown. Over time, and with your degrees firmly in hand,
you will garner the wisdom not only to do things right but, more
importantly, to do the right thing.
I wish you a future that is challenging and rewarding, a future
that provides every opportunity to create the life – and
the world – you imagine, a future that lets your spirits
soar. Our collective future depends on it.
Best wishes to you all.
Return to a list of Dr. Bordogna's speeches.