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Remarks

Photo of Joseph Bordogna

Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Deputy Director
Chief Operating Officer
National Science Foundation
Biography

Presentation to ABET Annual Meeting
Session on "Diversity in the Professions...A New Challenge for Societies"
Nashville, TN
October 29, 2004

See also slide presentation.

If you're interested in reproducing any of the slides, please contact The Office of Legislative and Public Affairs: (703) 292-8070.

Greetings to all, and thanks to ABET leadership for the honor to speak to you. I'm especially pleased to join you because the theme of broadening participation addressed at this meeting ranks at the top of the National Science Foundation's responsibilities. It is written into our statutory act.

Let me begin by offering congratulations to ABET for choosing to spotlight diversity. I also commend you on your plans to launch a diversity initiative and to consider developing criteria to address diversity in the accreditation of educational programs.

My charge as a speaker today is to intensify awareness of how the changes in our dynamic and diverse society demand broader participation by the underrepresented -- both people and organizations--in science and engineering. To establish context for this discussion, I believe it is useful to look back at the roots of the engineering profession's efforts to foster this diversity in our profession, roots which ABET helped to establish. I will include some insights gleaned from my own experiences, which were prompted three decades ago by the engineering leaders of that time. They asked us to move forward to enhance the nation's capacity to perform.

Then, I'll look at the transformation in discovery today -- the transformation enhancing the integration of research and education -- and at how such change dovetails with NSF's statutory-based investment in broadening participation.

To round out the picture, I want to share some experiences we have had at the National Science Foundation, which may provide some signposts for your work at this meeting -- and for what will come later.

To conclude, there will be some thoughts that I hope can challenge the conventional wisdom about diversity and accelerate the realization of its promise.

[King quotation]
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Our proactive engagement with capitalizing on diversity has venerable roots in this nation, roots that go back more than half a century to the beginnings of the modern struggle for civil rights. Education has always been a central arena for the civil rights movement -- witness the famous milestone in 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, from which so much unfolded.

A decade later, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, the most important legislation to promote civil rights since the time of Reconstruction following the Civil War. In that same year, 1964, Martin Luther King accepted the Nobel Prize, while professing, in these words: "an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future."

[1970s-1980s: Engineering Community's Blueprint for Action]
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Against this backdrop of national foment, the engineering community began, in the 1970s, to consider what diversity meant in our own context -- and how to foster it. The baseline figures at that time were worse than meager. In 1971, for example, among 43,000 bachelor's degrees in engineering, only about 400 went to African-Americans, and a handful went to other minorities or women.

The Society of Women Engineers had been founded two decades earlier, in 1950; now came the National Black Society of Engineers, in 1971, and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, created three years later.

Then came a seminal step for diversity in the engineering community. In 1974, the Sloan Foundation supported a study by the Planning Commission for Expanding Minority Opportunities in Engineering, called "Minorities in Engineering: A Blueprint for Action."

The report provided a holistic context for a national effort to bolster minority participation in engineering. It became the progenitor for programs to foster change by many organizations across the country. ABET, I'm sure, is proud to remember that one of the first groups responding to this budding national effort was a task force known then as ME3, the Minority Engineers Education Effort, organized in December 1972 with the sponsorship of the Engineers Council for Professional Development (ECPD).

Far from coincidentally, several key organizations came into being in that "Blueprint year" of 1974, including NACME, now the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering. I might add that the "A" in NACME originally stood for "Advisory." After some years of experience it was changed to denote "Action," a stronger, Nike-like signal to "JUST DO IT!!"

To promote action in response to the "Blueprint," $14 million was provided by Sloan, which led to a number of locally grounded efforts. A phone call from Reginald Jones, then-Chairman of GE and first NACME head, established my role helping to set up PRIME -- the Philadelphia Regional Introduction for Minorities to Engineering -- as a regional model for underrepresented minority participation. Other programs at the time included MESA in Oakland, California; TAME in Texas; and GEM in Indiana.

The blueprint resulted in some real successes. Engineering began to see increases in baccalaureate minorities, while some institutions saw enrollments of undergraduate women in engineering rise to 20% or more.

We thought in the early 1980s, with this progress, that we had solved the problem. But that was not the case. We learned that sustaining our efforts was key.

We discovered that government, academe and industry had to continue to partner, in order to accelerate the momentum toward diversity in engineering, and to make our workforce more representative of our population.

Today, there is widespread respect for the value of diversity in engineering. We better understand that cultivating our homegrown diversity, to fully utilize our population, can ultimately be our nation's competitive advantage for innovation and prosperity.

Contemporary change in our society -- the most obvious related to 9/11 -- has made us reexamine our sense of security. This is by no means the only dramatic change, however. At a breathtaking pace, sophisticated and complex technologies have pervaded our lives.

The levels of knowledge and skills needed to prosper as citizens and as a nation are burgeoning, making the engagement in lifelong learning an imperative.

This new knowledge-based society places a premium on the ability to communicate, to cooperate and to work across geographic and professional boundaries.

These changes, and more, accelerate the demand for a broad range of perspectives in our decision-making institutions. To draw in all segments of society, we must employ those with diverse talents, skills and backgrounds. We can't afford to leave an idea unexpressed or a potential solution unrealized.

As leaders in the diversity struggle, amidst the changing needs of a complex interconnected society, the talents of all our citizens are essential and must be embraced equally.

Diversity is linked to some other ideas that feed into the new "blueprint" for our times.

[new capabilities: tera, nano, complexity, cognition, holism]
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Today's engineers need capabilities that help them to work across boundaries, to handle ambiguity, to integrate, to innovate, to communicate and cooperate. Here I list five capabilities that help to connect, recompose, enrich, and expand core engineering and science disciplines. They encompass the concepts and expertise that our present and future workforce will require over an enormous scope of engineering discovery and practice. In abbreviated form, they are terascope, nanoscope, complexity, cognition and holism.

Terascale computing takes us orders of magnitude beyond the prevailing capability. The revolution in computer-communications has connected and integrated people, organizations, fields, and enabling-tools in ways never before possible. The nation's information technology capability has acted like "adrenaline" for all of engineering and science.

At NSF, we are in the process of building the most advanced computer-communication infrastructure for researchers and educators to use, while simultaneously broadening its accessibility.

Nanoscope is short for the enormous scope of ability that nanoscale science and engineering offer at the confluence of the smallest human-made devices and the large molecules of living systems. We are now at the point of being able to connect machines to individual living cells. Now, we will be able to build a "wish list" of properties into structures large and small.

Our increasing ability to handle complexity helps us to explore more deeply both the living and non-living worlds, and to probe their interconnections. Baccalaureate engineering graduates who have a sense of the complex enjoy a competitive perspective spanning fields and scales, and thus have the capability to perceive unity across orders of magnitude.

Cognition is short for the new synthesizing science of learning. This is a broad canopy arching over diverse scientific and technological streams.

The convergence of insights from many perspectives -- from sociological to biological to neurological to informatics, linguistics, and beyond -- brings a new way of looking at how we learn. Affirming the importance of this new frontier to our nation's competitive advantage, NSF has just announced the first three in a set of Science of Learning Centers, akin in value to our Engineering Research Centers and our Science and Technology Centers.

Finally, holism. It teaches us that combinations of things have a power and capability greater than the sum of their separate parts. Something new happens in this integrative process. A singular or separate dynamic emerges from the interaction.

New sets of engineering skills are emerging from these capabilities. The great potential of these new tools requires a rich diversity of workers who can truly think in new ways.

[21st century academe]
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Here is but one way to think about educational transformation that embraces these new capabilities. Conventionally, learning was organized by departments, but it is increasingly following thematic, integrating threads. Learning was once largely cloistered on campus; today, robust computer-communication technologies and an internationally connected world bring a global reach to education.

Courses once consisted of distinct and disparate units; now they interweave within a holistic curriculum. Academe and industry once lived in largely separate worlds; now both spheres understand the mutual symbiosis of robust linkages. Finally, research and education existed in separate ivory towers; today, they have become inextricably intertwined.

Now, I will add a fresh enabler to the list, borrowing from the recent AAAS-NACME report, "Standing Our Ground."

It states, "...the United States Supreme Court sanctioned what has been known for decades...in this country, diversity can be an essential component of excellence in education." The reality is that the differences in race, ethnicity and gender that enrich our society are a positive force to spur creativity and dynamism.

All of this is part of the compelling imperative for diversity in education, the professions and the workforce. I hear that ABET is considering establishing criteria to promote diversity through the accreditation process. In recent years, NSF has gone through an evolution of its own criteria for reviewing the research and education proposals we receive.

[merit review criteria]
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We call these our merit review criteria, and a few years ago we distilled them down from four to two. The first, and most traditional, calls for rating the intellectual merit of a proposal. The second, which I've highlighted in red, asks the proposer to specify the broader impacts of the proposed activity. Two years ago, we began a new policy -- to return, without review, any proposal whose summary did not separately address both criteria.

We took this step to indicate explicitly that broader impacts -- including prominently, as you can see on the slide, broadening participation -- are an integral part of any investment we make. At the same time, it is the proposer who decides how to implement Criterion II.

[statement on broadening participation]
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We also added a statement about broadening participation in science and engineering to our proposal solicitation and review process, and you see it here. It stresses that the principle of diversity is central to all programs and activities we support. Again, however, it's up to the proposer to decide how to incorporate that in his or her own context, because we want the very diversity of ideas to be at work as well.

[Broadening participation: What it is not about—What it is about]
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As I said at the outset, I was asked to intensify awareness of how broadening diversity in science and engineering is our collective responsibility. Let me share some musings about what broadening participation is not about, by way of suggesting what it really is about.

First--and this will fly in the face of conventional wisdom--it is not about the total number of scientists and engineers the nation may or may not need. It is easy to be distracted by debates about trends and statistics that attempt to make the case that the demand for science, engineering and technological workers is greater or less than the supply.

Rather, what it is about is drawing into the engineering and science workforce a larger proportion of women, underrepresented minorities, and persons with disabilities, no matter the workforce size. Whatever the numbers turn out to be, we need a robust and varied mix, and that means broadening participation.

An excellent step in this direction is an NSF program about which I am unabashedly passionate. It's called the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation -- LSAMP for short. These alliances across the nation are beginning to increase, noticeably, the number of underrepresented minority students in science, engineering, mathematics and technology, from K-12 and beyond. They also currently play a role in linking diverse institutions together.

Over 14 years, more than 225,000 bachelor's degrees have been awarded to minorities participating in LSAMP. More than 200,000 students are now enrolled, graduating at a tempo of 25,000 per year, and a growing number of the students are now earning PhDs.

Onto another provocation about broadening participation: diversity is not just about the number of minorities studying science, engineering, mathematics and technology. The past has taught us that we must not be complacent because of promising trends in our schools or in programs like LSAMP. We can't meet the goal of a representative workforce only by conferring a larger number of degrees.

Instead, it is about providing the right kind of education for the times and the support and infrastructure to attract and retain students. This includes creating seamless transitions from K-12 to college or university to graduate school and beyond, into the disciplines and the "interdisciplines" that fuel engineering and science innovation.

Here it is appropriate to mention that the growth of community colleges, and their inclusion in the LSAMP alliances, underscores the importance of including the institutions that most underrepresented minority students attend.

Rather than focus only on certain educational junctures, we need to integrate our educational strategies at all levels. LSAMP now includes an effort we call "Bridge to the Doctorate," which begins to focus on what happens to the students after baccalaureate graduation. An increasing number of students have taken the step onto this "bridge."

It also links to our Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate -- quite a mouthful, but it means linked investments that are creating a diverse group of potential faculty to help lead academe in the future. A few years down the road, the graduates of the Louis Stokes institutions will be an integral part of the pool of candidates from which we recruit our research and teaching professors and our high school teachers. We want those candidates to robustly represent our entire population.

These new leaders and role models will be able to recruit younger generations of minorities, who will be more eager to learn and work under mentors from similar as well as diverse backgrounds.

We believe that the mentoring and nurturing aspects of this program are significant in inspiring students to want to make a real difference in society.

Another point about our strategy to broaden participation: It is not about working from the bottom up or from the top down. We are frequently asked, "How is the National Science Foundation going to solve these problems?" NSF passionately shares in the commitment to bring the range of available talent into the fold of science and engineering. But we are not able to address all the issues by ourselves.

Broadening participation is about working together. Alliances like the Louis Stokes AMP are collaborations among more than 400 colleges, universities and institutes across the country. NSF's support is now joined by funds from academic institutions and from corporate and non-profit sponsors.

And another provocation: Broadening participation is also not about the number of foreign-born students, scientists or engineers who work or study in our country. They have long been a source of strength for our society and economy, and a way of lifting human potential around the globe.

What broadening participation is about is to fully develop our domestic talent -- our ace-in-the-hole, if you will. As a genuinely welcoming nation, we need to bolster our open-door policy that educates our own citizens to be contributing participants in our great democratic system, and continues the successful embrace of those from abroad.

It simply is not about building an independent national workforce to isolate ourselves from the world. Engineering and science have always been international. Recently, for example, an NSF report documented that the number of science and engineering articles by Latin American authors almost tripled from 1988-2001, significantly outstripping authors from other developing regions.

In our increasingly networked world we could not block mobile, global flows of discovery across our borders -- even if we wanted to.

Rather, broadening participation is about educating domestic scientists and engineers with a globally competitive edge. To be on the frontier of discovery, on the vanguard of innovation, calls for the new capabilities I've described -- and these are qualitatively different from a production-line education that turns out student-commodities to be bought on the global marketplace at the cheapest price.

We need a variety of learning paths to attract a diverse array of domestic students to science and engineering, yielding creative, world-class engineers, who are able to compete on any playing field. At a time when U.S. leadership in a number of fields of engineering and science is being challenged by many nations, it is time to communicate and partner across traditional lines and national boundaries. It is time, especially, to employ the rich, multicultural perspectives within our own borders.

In closing, let me turn once again to the words of Martin Luther King, who in his Nobel speech spoke of an audacious belief "that we are living in the creative turmoil of a genuine civilization struggling to be born." There is no better inspiration for this new chapter in the historic work to foster diversity in engineering and science.

Return to a list of Dr. Bordogna's speeches.

 

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