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Dr. Bordogna's Remarks


Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Deputy Director
Chief Operating Officer
Philadelphia University
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

February 17, 2002

Good evening to all of you. I am very pleased to be here tonight. The other day, I read a definition of the art of public speaking. "It is the art of making an audience believe that deep noises from the chest are important messages from the brain." I will make every effort not to let you down.

As you probably know, Philadelphia is my hometown and nothing gives me more pleasure than to see higher education flourish here in the place where education has been respected and promoted since the time of the Founders of our nation.

Philadelphia University, occupies a special place for me. Several years ago, as you were contemplating big changes, I was asked to weigh in with some advice. I haven't been back since then but I have kept track of your restructuring and have been most impressed. And I am continually honored to be a recipient of your centennial medal.

You are, to my mind, a university in continuous evolution -- conscious of the changing world, and arching towards those changes so that Philadelphia University students have skills to match the times. This is a pursuit that many larger, less agile institutions are not able to realize.

Philadelphia University, in its several incarnations, is one of the older entities in this city but you have forward-looking ideas, a contemporary flair and a futuristic spirit.

Complementing your vision, you have capitalize on two practical advantages for being suited to embrace change -- your size and your location. A smaller school has a greater opportunity to innovate and take risks. The larger an institution, the more difficult change becomes. The federal government is a good example. You, on the other hand, can expand intellectually according to your vision instead of expanding from the ailment we call "mission creep," which can be likened to "getting bigger for the sake of getting bigger." Some refer to the latter in our bureaucratic federal democracy as a process of "democrasclerosis."

I am proud to report that NSF is one of the few federal agencies whose budget is able to grow but whose bureaucracy does not follow.

The advantage of location should never be underestimated. In fact, I'm sure you've all heard the expression from business parlance, "location, location, location." Philadelphia has always been a vibrant city -- partly because of its crucial role in the history of the nation, partly because of its diverse population, partly because of its flourishing artistic community, but primarily because it is a cradle of higher education…all of which integrated to an atmosphere of eclectic imagination.

In this age of partnerships and collaboration, the proximity of our city's universities to each other provides a unique window -- for exchange of ideas, for partnering in projects, for sharing faculty, for pilot projects, for intensive cross-disciplinary work, and for collaboration among students across university boundaries.

In addition to this being the age of partnerships and collaboration, it is also a distinctly global new age. There are new opportunities, new threats, new priorities, and new constraints…but perhaps not a new economy. In a more embryonic time, when Philadelphia, our leaders, and the nation were filled with the excitement of national youth and innocence, George Washington advised us wisely for those times but perhaps not as well for today's. In his Farewell Address, September 17, 1796, he warned, "Tis our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances, with any portion of the foreign world. ...There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation."

Today, we live in the antithesis of that mindset and environment. Our global integration, prompted primarily by technological innovation, creates a different set of realities for government, industry, academe, and the population in general. Our national security is very much based on alliances and cooperation with other nations. Instant communication and advanced transportation make our world integrated, porous, attached, and overlapping in every way. The events of September 11 have brought that home in new and frightening aspects.

In the public sector -- federal, state, and local -this has brought new changed responsibilities and expenses. The bounty of huge projected surpluses has, like Cinderella, at the turn of the day suddenly turned to escalating deficits. Already, the criteria and costs of "homeland security" are reverberating through the economy. At the institutional level, large and small, there needs to be streamlined management, operation, and security.

For industry, the global marketplace is a wish list of opportunity and a reverberation of the economic woes of others. The accelerated pace of new knowledge and technological obsolescence is simultaneously invigorating and daunting.

For academe, the constant churning and change in society makes us unnervingly alert to staying ahead of the curve. As I think about Philadelphia University - I think about success, potential, and opportunities. This seemed to coalesce with some of the concepts and priorities in NSF's agenda. They fit into your vision for the university and form a conglomerate for framing the future.

Even their sound is new:

Cacophony and complexity
Heterogeneity and holism
Nano, and

These are shorthand for the new capabilities in science and engineering we believe will transform society. They will also change and reinvigorate our nation's system of higher education.

Cacophony is typically defined as "disharmony" but for us, it describes a bantering of ideas. Cacophony for us is a wild discussion, brain storming, or heated debate at the knowledge frontier that leads our thinking to new places breakthroughs, intellectual disruptions. In what better root could scholarship lie?

Its companion is complexity. Mitch Waldrop, in his book Complexity, writes about a point we often refer to as "the edge of chaos." That is, "where the components of a system never quite lock into place, and yet never quite dissolve into turbulence either...The edge of chaos is where new ideas and innovative genotypes are forever nibbling away at the edges of the status quo..."

You need cacophony to understand that complexity can hold a 'a space of opportunity,' a place to make a marriage of unlike partners or disparate ideas. You need cacophony to identify how to mobilize that locus where chaos can be reshaped or transformed. The awareness of 'complexity' makes us nimble and opportunistic seekers not only in our science and engineering knowledge but in our industrial and commercial institutions. It is also needed to understand how best to move higher education into a new era.

If we operate with this awareness we will be able to identify and capitalize on those fringe territories which have so much potential. Complexity teaches us to look at places of dissonance or disorder in a field as windows of possibility.

As for heterogeneity, the dictionary defines it as diverse, varied, and non-homogenous. This definition serves us well. Heterogeneity depicts teams of diverse "domain-trained" or "disciplinarily-trained participants - maybe engineers, chemists, programmers, psychologists, and social philosophers for example, - addressing a common boundary - crossing problem. It also describes a polyglot group of these folks along with students, and school teachers forming a community of learners and achievers. If you look carefully at NSF investments you will see evidence of such attempted synergism.

The growing diversity of the U.S. population offers us a unique advantage to marshal the perspectives and wisdom of different cultures, thought patterns, beliefs, and behaviors.

Holism teaches us that combinations of things have a power and capability greater than the sum of their separate parts. Holism is far from a new idea. We have seen it work in social structures since the beginning of civilization. Something new happens in this integration process. A singular or separate dynamic emerges from the interaction.

Although holism, the process of integration, is an ancient dynamic, what is new is that it can be applied to the vast accumulated knowledge of science and engineering and the new knowledge that is burgeoning as we speak.

To gain the most powerful advantage from holism we need to have a heterogeneity of participants. We need diverse perspectives, different beliefs, varied cultures, numerous approaches in training, and even "rule breaking" across the board. This may sound like a formula for disaster but, in fact, it is probably the surest path to innovative solutions. The goal is to bring the chaos and disorder together in a fresh way to form a different and unique "whole," to create not discordance, but, rather, a distinctly different harmony.

Cognition may sound like the odd one out in this list. It not only fits but it is the very beginning of the process. The dictionary defines cognition as the mental process by which knowledge is acquired. Most of us would simply say, this is learning. Learning is the foundation territory of all other capabilities, human and institutional.

Our understanding of the learning process holds the key to tapping the potential of every child, empowering a 21st century workforce, redesigning education from K through 16, and, even in maintaining our democracy.

The social philosopher and leader, Marian Wright Edelman wrote in her thin volume, The Measure of Our Success, "...America cannot afford to waste a single child." President Bush calls his education initiative, "No child left behind." From the last 30 years of research, we know that people, both young and old, absorb and assimilate knowledge in different ways, and in more than one way.

We know that cultural experience, social interaction, and communal participation are primary forms of learning. By the time a child enters school, these cultural norms and values are already in place. We know that being an expert does not guarantee your ability to instruct others about the topic. That has important implications for training teachers.

We now know that knowledge acquired solely by rote memory rarely transfers or converts as useable knowledge, so the value of its applicability is limited.

We know that more than any other species, humans are configured to be the most flexible learners. Humans are intentional learners, proactive in acquiring knowledge and skills, although much of what we learn is outside of any formal instruction.

And, it turns out that we are more successful learners if we are mindful or cognizant of ourselves as learners or thinkers.

Cognition is a critical inquiry into all aspects of how people learn.

To date, our knowledge of the "science of learning," is probably just the tip of the iceberg of what we have yet to learn. Our ultimate goal is truly [not] to waste a single child and to teach and train a workforce that is well prepared and can adapt and change.

Of the five capabilities that form the cluster of my remarks, two are advanced technologies - nano and tera. Without the least exaggeration, I can say that they will catapult society into a new and unimaginable era.

Nano is short for nano-science and engineering and it has the potential to eclipse everything we can do in manufacturing today - from airplanes to pharmaceuticals, from the smallest to the largest tools we use to learn and create.

At nanoscale, things are portrayed at the molecular and atomic level of things, both natural and human-made. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter. Until the scanning/tunneling microscope was invented twenty years ago, we could not observe molecules on a surface. Soon, our micro world will become a nano world.

We will connect nano-machines to individual living cells. Nano capability will allow us to build a "wish list" of properties into structures large and small. For cars, trucks, and airplanes nano-particle reinforced materials will allow lighter bodies, self-repairing coatings, and non-flammable plastics.

In electronics and communications, it will be possible to vastly increase data storage capacity and processing speeds. This will produce lower costs and improved power efficiency as compared to current electronic circuits.

In pharmaceuticals, health care, and life sciences, we will see new nanostructured drugs and drug delivery systems targeted to specific sites in the body. Researchers anticipate biocompatible replacements for body parts and fluids, and material for bone and tissue regeneration.

This new nano capability brings together many disciplines of science and engineering to work in collaboration. The scope and scale of nano create an overarching, enabling field not unlike the role of information technologies today. We are witnessing the start of a nano revolution.

Enter terascale computing, a power-driven tool that will boost all disciplines and give wings especially to our nano pursuits.

Terascale computing is shorthand for computing technology that takes us three orders of magnitude beyond prevailing computing capabilities. In the past, our system architectures could handle only hundreds of processors. Now we work with systems of thousands of processors. Shortly, we'll connect millions of systems and billions of 'information appliances' to the Internet.

When we dramatically advance the speed of our capability in any area we give researchers and industrialists and scholars the mechanism to get to a frontier much faster or, better yet in terms of NSF's mission, to reach a frontier that had been, heretofore, unreachable, as well as unknowable.

Terascale computing will launch us to frontiers still without names.

The revolution in information technologies connected and integrated researchers and research fields in a way never before possible. The nation's IT capability has acted like 'adrenaline' to all of science and engineering. A next step was to build the most advanced computing infrastructure for researchers to use, while simultaneously broadening its accessibility. NSF is presently deeply into the process of enabling this distributed leading - edge computational capability. This decade will se extraordinary advance in our capacity for visualization, simulation, and robust handling of enormous sets of data - the latter being labeled with moniker "Big Data."

Together, these capabilities will have increasing impact on the nature of society in the 21st century. We know how the recent revolution in information technologies has already connected and integrated researchers and research fields in a way never before possible. These capabilities will have the "wow" effect.

By now, some of you must be thinking, gee I'm on this train and have trouble hanging on or some of you may be anxious to get on this train? A good part of this scenario has to do with perspective - the way we think about things. Attitude, approach, and astuteness will count a great deal. Putting together teams of people that can elucidate each other's thinking instead of just agreeing with it will be critical.

You need to gather unlikely partners whose theologies, ideologies, and psychologies seemingly don't match. Create a brouhaha of thinking. Take educated risks. Believe in yourselves.

Philadelphia University has the opportunity and the pioneer spirit to tap into these new ways as you continue to evolve to the changing needs of society.

In closing, I leave you, as members of Philadelphia society with its rich base of revolution, artistic flair, educations substance, inventive accomplishment, and great diversity, with this quote from Mark Twain:

"You can't depend on your judgment when your imagination is out of focus."



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