Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Chief Operating Officer
National Science Foundation
Remarks at Inaugural Event
Tennenbaum Institute for Enterprise Transformation
Georgia Institute of Technology
October 21, 2004
Thank you, Jean Lou [Dr. Jean-Lou Chameau], and good afternoon to all of you. I am delighted to be part of this auspicious gathering, which marks the beginning of a promising journey into the heartland of transformation. The Tennenbaum Institute is without question a timely and welcome innovation within our research and education enterprise—and for the future of the nation.
Listening to my fellow panelists this afternoon, I am struck above all by the tremendous breadth and diversity of their experiences and expertise. And yet, I recognize certain motifs that reverberate throughout their unique perspectives—integrating threads, if you will, that enable results.
Educators, engineers, and policymakers are accustomed to thinking in terms of systems that are designed to meet specific ends. Today, that perspective is shared by many outside these fields, from venture capitalists to biologists and physicists to managers of enterprises large and small. Some refer to a systems or holistic approach to design or problem solving, others speak of integrating or synthesizing disparate elements into a larger whole. Yet none of these quite catches the full flavor of this common thread. That is understandable. We are all in the process of discovering, creating, imagining, and developing this integrative model to meet the challenges and opportunities of our changing times.
And the challenges are many in today's global and fast-changing knowledge base. Three of these are evident to all of us. We must continue to create the frontier knowledge that drives innovation and sustain the innovation that feeds the knowledge base. We must figure out how to create the inflection points in an increasingly competitive marketplace. And we must be leaders in shaping a workforce with extraordinary capabilities so that now and in the future the nation can sustain progress.
Every sector has its role and responsibilities to meet these new challenges, not least the National Science Foundation (NSF). Whereas industry's task is to create wealth and academe's task is to create, integrate and transfer knowledge, NSF's mandate is to enable, in particular to ensure the overall health of the nation's science and engineering research and education enterprise. That's an enormous undertaking—one that would be nearly impossible without collaboration with academe, industry and other government agencies. And it cannot be achieved without clear strategies for setting priorities.
In the context of this inauguration of the Tennenbaum Institute, I will focus on just one of those strategies: enabling a science and engineering workforce with new capacities and skills to suit a world in which rapid change and increasing complexity, together with broadening interdependence, are dominant features. We need to prepare today's students to be tomorrow's mentors, innovators and leaders. They will create and integrate knowledge, produce innovations we cannot yet imagine, engineer creative transformations, and design new options to meet global challenges. And they may well be expected to get this going in their first job!
By way of illustration, let me describe one NSF program that is designed to encourage creative approaches to meeting these workforce challenges. Then I'll briefly mention three others to round out the picture.
The Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship Program, or IGERT for short, is NSF's flagship for strategic investment in graduate education. It's no accident that the "I" in IGERT stands for Integrative.
In almost all fields, the boundaries between and among disciplines are blurring. Often we find the most fertile scientific opportunities in these "foggy crossings" where the knowledge in one field informs and is informed by discoveries in another.
The ultimate goal of NSF's IGERT investment is to provide each graduate student with a "boundary-crossing experience" that spans disciplines and yet digs deeply in several areas. Graduates will need these capabilities to meet the demands of relentless change in trends, tools, technologies, and tasks. In time, as they impart their new capabilities to colleagues and students, a new generation of integrators and innovators will find these activities as natural as taking a breath.
But we simply do not yet know how best to do this, or even if there is only one "best." So each competitive IGERT award is an experiment to find creative and innovative ways of educating a new generation. It is holistic and flexible in approach. In some sense, it is a program designed to learn from itself (which is very close to what we humans have done since the dawn of history!)
Of course this multidisciplinary, integrative program is not enough. We must think holistically about the connections that weave together education with continuing research, innovative collaborations, and a deeper understanding of human actions and endeavors. Here are three NSF programs that give you a glimpse of some of the pieces of the whole.
- The NSF Innovation and Organizational Change program encourages a wide variety of research to deepen our fundamental knowledge about how organizations transform themselves in response to change, and the mechanisms that are essential to successful innovation and learning within organizations. The aim is to enhance the nation's capacity to design, manage, and operate organizations so that they achieve our intended ends.
- The NSF Partnerships for Innovation program aims to stimulate the transformation of knowledge created by the research and education enterprise into innovations that create new wealth, and build strong local, regional and national economies. The focus is on enabling partnerships among academe, educators, entrepreneurs, business and government to join knowledge creation with wealth creation.
- Finally, we cannot make rapid progress unless we have the capability to integrate research, education, and innovation with deeper knowledge about people —how we think, learn, and make decisions, how we respond to the changes around us and in turn change the character of the world we live in. We must also understand how our individual activities affect the groups, organizations and societies that are so characteristic of human organization. NSF's new Human and Social Dynamics investment will explore these interconnections.
Taken together these programs can help us design new educational paths and learning environments, and new organizations and institutions to meet the challenges of a new world.
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