Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Chief Operating Officer
National Science Foundation
ASEE Engineering Research Council
Annual Forum Banquet
February 28, 2005
Thank you and good evening to all of you. I am delighted to be here for the ASEE Engineering Research Council's Annual Forum and am honored to be your banquet speaker.
ASEE is a wonderful organization with a rich history of integrating education and research. Coupled with a focus on taking advantage of all facets of our nation's mind power, ASEE can offer formidable visions of how best to create a world-class engineering workforce derived from a partnership between research and education at the very frontier and capitalizing on the nation's great strength in diversity. I am thus especially pleased to join you this evening to discuss diversity in engineering.
Since this is a meeting focused on research, let me share with you a sample of the kind of frontier discussions going on at NSF as we speak.
Research exploration operates at many frontiers simultaneously. There are fundamental questions to be answered across more than 50 orders of magnitude in space and time, ranging from the subatomic to the cosmic, and from quintillionths of a second to billions of years. Each scale presents special challenges -- and special opportunities. And we will never exhaust the mysteries inherent in all dimensions.
Indeed, entire new horizons of research have appeared in the past few years thanks to emerging developments made possible by the convergence of fresh insight and powerful new technologies.
One, arriving through the sciences of complexity, recognizes that self-organizations and "chaotic" or nonlinear phenomena may be more prevalent, and more important, than previously realized in fields ranging from climate studies to social behavior to fluid dynamics and biodiversity.
Another is the growing ability to detect, record, and analyze the complicated interplay of numerous covariables in large systems -- whether ecological, social, neurological or geophysical.
A third is the advent of "virtual" experimentation. Computing power and visualization techniques are reaching the point at which mathematical models can be used to conduct primary investigations of even the most intricate processes and systems, and to extract from enormous and disparate datasets, patterns and relationship that might never be observed otherwise.
A few examples include:
The Biosphere. How can we detect, model and predict the ways in which coupled natural and human systems respond to different kinds of stresses and modifications? Such models must include the consequences of the interplay among air, water, land and biota, and predict the effects of altering one variable (e.g., a particular pollutant, precipitation, an invasive species) on one or more other variables.
Those effects, it now appears, can be hugely complicated and are frequently nonlinear. Understanding them will require novel collaborations of researchers and collation of data taken simultaneously in many ways at many physical and temporal scales.
It will also require researchers to view holistically different kinds of interrelated phenomena that have never been considered as systems. For example: How do population trends, land use, industrial and urban processes affect hydrological systems and water quality in rivers, lakes and estuaries? How can research about human and social behavior at all levels, from small groups to communities to regions - especially in response to crises or destabilizing events - lead to effective engineering approaches to managing these dynamic systems?
Such efforts will require new kinds of ecological observatories enabling collection and integration of data from a number of different kinds of distributed sensors, both for empirical research and for creation of effective models.
The results can profoundly affect our ability to understand the spread of infectious diseases, quality of water supplies in critical regions, stability of essential ecosystems, optimal engineering solutions to complex problems, and many other issues.
Energy and Waste. What are the essential power sources and industrial processes of the future? To a large extent, 21st-century civilization is still running on 19th-century technologies - most notably, combustion of fossil fuels. And humanity is still practicing a social paradigm unchanged in 100,000 years, burying or burning its copious wastes. Finding alternatives to those situations is one of the most pressing goals facing engineers, chemists and physicists.
Individual and Social Dynamics. How can we understand the totality and complexity of human and organizational behavior? The integration of vast computing power, massive data sets, large complex models, and new analytical tools will be necessary to enable researchers to comprehend, simulate, visualize, and predict such behavior.
Sensors and Sensor Systems. How can we detect subtle - but potentially crucial - changes in materials or the environment, and combine sensor signals into a coherent picture?
Numerous scientific and technical problems, from making sense of collisions at a particle accelerator to monitoring the security of facilities to tracking alterations in brain waves or blood chemistry, require steady progress in two areas: developing ever more sensitive and ever-smaller sensors; and devising robust systems of assembling multiple signals into useful information.
Those objectives will require basic research that brings together specialties as diverse as surface chemistry, microelectronics, biophysics, photonics, information theory and mathematics.
Cognitive and Behavioral Sciences. How are brain functions at the molecular, cellular, neurological and neural network levels related to human functions as memory, learning and decision-making?
Within the past two years, capabilities of both invasive and non-invasive sensing technologies have expanded rapidly. It is now possible to design experiments that could simultaneously measure brain function in large numbers of experimental subjects and/or interacting individuals. Indeed, we may be soon be on the verge of characterizing at the neurological level how people learn - that is, how the brain acquires, organizes, and retains knowledge and skills.
Molecular Understanding of Life Processes. How do proteins fold and bind, producing many of the essential biochemical reactions of life? How do membranes work to permit selective entry and exit of molecules and ions, permitting cells to interact with their surroundings? What are the molecular origins of the emergent behavior that underlies life processes from heartbeats and circadian rhythms to neurological activity? How do biological systems assemble themselves? How did the first biologically relevant molecules form and how did they organize into self-replicating cells? How does a single fertilized cell become a multi-cellular organism? And how does a common set of genes give rise to a wide-range of morphologically and ecologically distinct organisms?
Medical researchers seek to apply those insights to treatments, and engineers require them for innovation in fields such as bioengineering and nanotechnology.
Efficient Manufacturing at the Nanoscale. New kinds of fabrication will require widely available instruments, metrics and positioning equipment that permit standardization and dimensional control on a size scale much smaller than most existing facilities provide.
In order for nanoscale manufacturing to become affordable, the National Nanotechnology Initiative calls for: "highly capable, low-cost, reliable instrumentation and internationally accepted standards for the measurement of nanoscale phenomena and for characterization and manipulation of nanostructures" as well as "standard reference materials and standardized instruments with nanoscale resolution."
Cyberinfrastructure. All of the foregoing, and many other opportunities and objectives, will require a new generation of computing, communication, analysis and information technologies to revolutionize the conduct of science and engineering research and education. These resources, many of which are now in development, are collectively known as "cyberinfrastructure" (CI).
Essentially all major facilities will require some aspect of CI and many will not be able to achieve their objectives without utilizing CI well beyond anything available today. In addition, demand is rising for the ability to conduct detailed "experiments" on computer models. Already, computational chemistry is revealing within days compounds and configurations that might have taken decades to discern by standard benchtop trial-and-error methods.
Indeed, some problems -- if they are tractable at all -- can only be addressed in high-powered CI.
I could go on and on all night here but my purpose at the moment is for us to salivate about the grand experience we look forward to, to set the stage, so to speak, of why diversity is the nation's strategic enabler of all of this.
Diversity, or broadening participation, is a goal that ranks at the top of NSF's responsibilities and is a topic for which I hold strong passion. My objective this evening is to sharpen our awareness of how change in our dynamic and diverse society demands broader participation by the underrepresented -- both people and organizations -- in engineering and science.
In addressing diversity, we need to look at the roots of the engineering profession's efforts to foster it. Then, I will highlight examples of NSF's diversity activities and initiatives that may serve as guidance for future endeavors to broaden participation.
The endeavors of engineers to advance diversity have roots that go back more than half a century, to the beginnings of the modern struggle for civil rights.
Education has always been a focus for the civil rights movement -- witness the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, which overturned the old and unfair principle of "separate but equal."
The concept of "separate but equal" was delineated in the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision on separate but equal accommodations for blacks and whites on interstate railroads.
A decade after Brown v. the Board of Education, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, the most important legislation in American history to promote civil rights since the time of Reconstruction following the Civil War. In that same year, 1964, Martin Luther King accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, while professing, "an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future."
Against this backdrop of national foment, the engineering community began to consider what diversity meant in our own context -- and how to foster it. In fact, the engineering profession was the first to devise a plan of action for increasing diversity in its discipline.
The baseline figures for diversity in engineering 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, and in 1971 came the National Black Society of Engineers, and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers was created three years later.
Then came a seminal step for diversity in the engineering community. In 1974, a study by a national group known as the Planning Commission for Expanding Minority Opportunities in Engineering, published "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. One of the first groups responding to this budding national effort was a task force known then as ME3, the Minority Engineering Education Effort, organized in December 1972 with sponsorship of the Engineers Council for Professional Development (ECPD), the precursor to ABET, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.
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 own role helping 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. There were increases in minority engineering baccalaureates. In addition, some institutions saw enrollments of undergraduate women in engineering rise to 20% or more.
It is important to reiterate that the engineering profession was the first to come along and establish a "blueprint" for diversity. As engineers, we do what our profession teaches, assess a major problem, devise an innovative plan to address it, and then execute. We should be proud for providing the impetus that got the ball rolling.
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 to future success. We thought in the early 1980s, that with this progress, we had solved the problem. But that was not the case. We learned that sustaining our efforts was key to future success. We discovered that academe, industry and government had to continue to partner, in order to accelerate the momentum toward diversity in engineering.
Today, there is widespread respect for the value of diversity in engineering. Cultivating the nation's homegrown diversity can ultimately be our nation's competitive advantage for innovation and prosperity.
Addressing nascent opportunities at the frontier, some of which I've addressed here tonight, will require the convergence of knowledge and skills from people of diverse backgrounds and varied perspectives across race, ethnicity, gender, and, of course disciplinary backgrounds.
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. We cannot afford to leave an idea unexpressed or a transformational solution unrealized.
In 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. Engineers figured this out long ago.
In recent years, NSF has gone through an evolution of its own thinking and criteria for reviewing the research and education proposals we receive.
We call these our merit review criteria, and a few years ago we distilled them down from four to two to focus better on realizing our statutory mandate. 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 -- 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, design, and describe an endeavor for Criterion II.
We also added a statement about broadening participation in science and engineering to our proposal solicitation and review process. 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.
As I said at the outset, my objective is to sharpen our awareness about broadening participation. Let me share some musings about what broadening participation is not about, by way of suggesting what it really is about.
First -- and this may 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 Alliances 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.
On to 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 focuses 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 NSF's Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) -- 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 cannot block mobile, global flows of discovery across our borders -- even if we wanted.
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 a workforce 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.