Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Chief Operating Officer
NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
The Herman Schneider Lecture Series
University of Cincinnati
April 19, 2002
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As I was thinking about my remarks for today, uppermost
in my mind was how deeply engineering is woven into
every aspect of our society and yet how misconceived
is engineering's role in how we live and thrive. The
misconceptions perhaps lie even in the minds of engineers
as well as other citizens.
Among non-engineers, there are lots of jokes about
what engineers think and what they do. For example,
you're an engineer if:
- in college, you thought Spring Break was metal
fatigue failure, or
- if at an air show, you're the one who knows how
fast the skydivers are falling, or
- if you've saved every power cord from all your
From an engineer's point of view, we're the ones who
make stuff, and we make it right . . . but how often
do we seriously consider if it's the right thing to
make? How often do we spend the time in our designs
to consider the linkages among seemingly disparate
Today I want to focus on the role and responsibility
of engineers in the continuing progress of society.
I am honored to be among the participants in the Herman
Schneider Lecture Series that has brought together
some of the leading thinkers in engineering.
As the last speaker in this year's series, I see this
as an opportunity to make some comments that are overarching.
And so, I have titled my remarks, Engineers: Leading
Civilization into a New Era.
Commentators and writers often use the term "new era"
as a catch-all to mean the vagueness of the future
- therefore escaping more specific definition. I hope
to put some meat on the "bare bone" of "new era."
Our nation was conceived in revolution - it is part
of our heritage. Our nation's revolution was in large
part an intellectual one, given the considerable talents
of our founders in creating a nation from a benevolent
idea. Today's intellectual revolutionaries are perhaps
the engineers, who hopefully, are benevolently transforming
society with technology.
In the early 1950s, Jacob Bronowski, the historian
of science and technology and author of the acclaimed
work "The Ascent of Man," wrote, "Every animal leaves
traces of what it was. Only man leaves traces of what
Much of our knowledge of early societies has been culled
from the tools, structures, and art that outlived
them. Today, as we survey our own society and try
to imagine what will remain for the inhabitants of
future centuries to ponder, we realize that much of
what remains will be the work of engineers.
Engineers reflect their society and their culture.
Engineers turn ideas into reality; new ideas, like
all revolutions, alter the fabric of society. Of our
particular time in history, we can make several comprehensive
statements about today's fabric.
The most obvious: science and engineering have created
the society and civilization in which we live.
Another obvious observation is that the planetary population
is burgeoning; much of this is taking place in regions
of extreme poverty. We are now at six billion and
still climbing. (The year 2000 is well known as the
year of Y2K; history will record the year 2001 as
the year of Y2B.)
Despite political differences, we know that the planet's
atmosphere, water, soil, plant and wildlife are showing
the stresses of population growth, industrialization,
and the mass accumulations of a throw-away society.
Yet another emblem of our time: Global marketplace
competition among industrial nations is becoming more
intense and the number of nations participating grows
The global competition for high skilled technical workers
and visionary science and engineering professionals
will continue to escalate.
Within these realities, we must ask what we expect
from current and future engineers?
Although common discourse has a way of interchanging
the terms science and engineering, we know that scientists
and engineers perform different roles. And each role
is consistently enhanced and advanced by developments
of the other's expertise.
For centuries, an intricate dance has taken place by
the development of new tools, which help uncover deeper
knowledge, which in turn necessitate ever more sophisticated
and complex tools, which spur new ways to see and
understand. The more complex society becomes, the
more integrated the work of scientists and engineers
will become to answer questions and continue to create
And, complexity eventually brings us to the place where
all things have connection - the place where knowledge
in one field often answers the questions in another.
Despite these connections and interrelationships, engineers
have a unique role.
In a speech several years ago at the centennial celebration
of the Church of Saint John the Divine in New York
City, William McDonough, then Dean of Architecture
at the University of Virginia said, "...design is
the manifestation of human intent."
The concept of design in an engineer's tool kit is
the emblem of engineering knowledge and creativity.
Thus it follows that our designs should indeed be
reflective of society's fundamental intentions and
values. We know, however, that events and inventions
have not necessarily followed that path.
The social philosopher, Lewis Mumford, repeatedly took
our society to task on this subject. To paraphrase,
he reminded us that Western society has accepted,
without questioning, a technological imperative that
is so arbitrary that we have embraced as inherently
worthwhile and productive, anything that has been
invented. In other words, he accused us of accepting
and embracing anything we learned to create.
Harsh "lessons-learned" from centuries of this pattern
have slowly brought us to a more educated place. We
recognize that the biological and technological complexity
of our society, while for the most part enabling a
better life for many, can also trigger unintended
results, and long-term, or even irrevocable, consequences.
The role of engineers in this more enlightened place
must be both broader and more influential.
I say this not just because the pace of technological
development continues to accelerate. But also as Marshall
McCluhan suggested, "We shape our tools and then our
tools shape us." If the shaper does not understand
where society might be headed, then tools will randomly
determine our destiny. If the shaper has vision and
understands the future implications of the tools,
and the values of the society, the tools will be a
reflection of that knowledge.
In essence, engineers need to sit at the decision-making
table, or even, at times, at the head of the table
because they are so integral to the process of societal
change and progress. We are the shapers.
However, the move from just lab responsibility to shared
leadership will require some changes in the way we
currently see things. Engineers will need a much more
comprehensive education. Today, even though there
has been visible successful change in the engineering
curriculum toward this end, for the most part, engineering
education lacks a robust integration across human
and technical boundaries. Engineers need a full 360-degree
education that can reflect the present and anticipate
In the 1990s, one of the science and engineering community's
best friends in Congress, the late-Congressman George
Brown of California, would remind us that most of
society's problems are not technical but human and
Engineers, as society's designers and builders, must
have a holistic education that enlightens them to
the larger context in which their work shapes our
Engineers will be the core by which we can progress
towards global sustainable development - a term, I
might add, surrounded by many myths. It is useful
first to say what it is not. It does not signify
antigrowth, but rather smarter growth. It does not
mean preserving the planet at the cost of economic
enrichment and prosperity. Rather, it means protecting
the planet with appropriate forms of development and
expansion. It means many new ways to see things.
In a broad sense, engineers will be required to design
much of this societal change. They will envision artifacts,
systems, networks, infrastructures, and tools for
a new way of living and prospering on the planet.
To do this they will need to know something about the
history of science and technology, and how creativity
and innovation are used in other fields, such as art
where imagination and risk-taking are central to propelling
the artist toward something entirely new.
They will need to understand urban development, political
philosophy, and mass communication. They will need
broad exposure to the social sciences where the long-term
studies of human behavior and group dynamics can teach
us a great deal.
And they will definitely need the full spectrum of
communication skills - clear and concise writing,
accessible and engaging oral presentation, and the
broad fundamentals of leadership. Without these they
will not be able to influence investment in their
ideas and thus lose their capacity to contribute.
I am not suggesting that engineering programs should
develop courses that are branded, "political philosophy
for engineers," or "sociology for engineers." This
would defeat the purpose of what needs to be learned
from broad exposure and the perspective of others.
Rather, engineers need to be exposed to dialogue with
people who are not learning to be engineers. We are
learning that you can't afford to educate experts
in a vacuum.
Society's problems and potential are stirred into a
wonderful "pot pourri" of activity and interaction,
and also carry the baggage of the past. This makes
for a virtual "stew" with no boundaries or borders
but rather overlapping influences. Today's engineers
will be required to make balanced judgments that can
help eliminate the problems and enhance the potential.
They can't do that with a rarified education.
If we are preparing engineers for genuine leadership,
they need a comprehensive education and an attitude
of life-long learning. Much of what they will learn
in formal engineering courses must provide them with
the capability to embrace new tools, new materials,
and different societal intentions as the years pass.
Integral to our responsibility for these challenges,
there is also a significant opportunity to bring breadth
of knowledge and perspective into our midst from the
rich untapped reservoir of our own underrepresented
minority populations. We must actively enlist these
fellow citizens into our ranks!
For decades the science and engineering (S&E) professions
have relied heavily on foreign-born talent that came
to the U.S. to be educated, and then stayed. This
global embracing of intellectual talent has served
the nation extraordinarily well. But that situation
is changing in two respects.
Many new nations have joined the traditional family
of industrial nations. They are competing for the
global pool of S&E talent and are creating tough competition
for the U.S. As these nations continue to build their
own strong technical infrastructure and economies,
fewer of their citizens are likely to emigrate to
the United States.
Concurrently, their own citizens, trained in our system,
have reason and opportunity to return home. They take
with them American technological innovation which,
while healthy for global wealth creation and societal
stability, depletes America's capacity to compete.
The old wisdom that technology transfer is a "contact"
sport not only applies to the positive transfer in
our own S&E enterprise to hasten getting new technology
to market. It can also work to move that know-how
beyond our borders, not in marketable products but
in transferred expertise. This is but one aspect of
The second part is even more compelling. There has
been a dramatic change in our nation's demographics
over the last three decades. We are fast becoming
a majority of minorities. We see this not only in
urban areas but also in communities of every size
and in every geographical region. We are making much
greater strides to incorporate women and minorities
into the general workforce than we are in recruiting
them into the S&E workforce.
The young people in our growing number of minority
families are our nation's untapped human capital.
They are our competitive edge. We must reach them
when they are young enough to get the early requisite
educational background. We must engage and excite
them about careers in engineering and science.
We must be forthright in explaining that U.S. progress
and prosperity cannot continue without a comprehensively
educated workforce and that this is service to the
nation. And upon attracting them, we must be proactive
about recruiting them into the many engineering programs
across the nation.
Let's really mean it when we advocate an open-door
policy to an engineering education. Let's advocate
an open door policy that educates and enables our
own citizens to be contributing participants in our
great democratic system as well as continuing the
successful policy of embracing those from abroad.
This new perspective on an old policy will make us
a genuine welcoming nation to both talent from abroad
and from the nation's underrepresented minorities.
The Statue of Liberty's torch must light the way for
those within our borders as well as those from our
border's other side.
If we don't do this we risk being vulnerable. We will
not have an educated and competitive workforce to
rely on within our borders.
Foreign-born students should always find a welcome
here but so must our growing number of underrepresented
minorities. Among them will be many of our future
In closing . . . as we look to the near future, our
engineers will confront a vastly accelerated technological
horizon. The nanoscale revolution will transform every
aspect of our society. Engineers will be primary developers
of this revolution. It was a brief twenty odd years
ago, with the invention of the scanning/tunneling
electron microscope, that we could first observe molecules
on a surface. Now our micro world is becoming a nano
Nanotechnology gives engineers the ability to manipulate
matter one atom or molecule at a time. They will be
able to make a wish-list of qualities and characteristics
to build into a new material or machine. Nanostructures
are 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.
This capability will transform engineering, manufacturing,
and society itself. Three hundred years from now,
historians may refer to the 21st century
as the nano century.
Add to this, the potent future of terascale computing
- computing technology that takes us three orders
of magnitude beyond prevailing computing capabilities
- and we will literally remake what we know as engineering.
When we combine the speed and breadth of terascale
computing and the minute dexterity of manipulating
the world at the nanoscale, we get a glimpse of fiction
that becomes our future.
This is more than exciting, it's fantastic! This new
world will require not only a different education
for engineers, and for engineers as leaders, but also
for engineering educators.
I am reminded here of the wisdom of longshoreman and
social philosopher Eric Hoffer. He wrote, "In times
of change, learners will inherit the Earth, while
the learned find themselves well equipped to deal
with a world that no longer exists."
We will all have an aggressive learning curve for the
time ahead. And if engineers are posited with the
task of reflecting human intention, and if they do
their task well, we will move steadily into a genuine
In fact, we cannot make the long journey to a sustainable
future for the planet and its inhabitants without
the help of engineers. Without engineers, the world