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Dr. Bordogna's Remarks


Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Acting Deputy Director
American Association of Engineering Societies/
National Academy of Engineering
News Briefing

September 1, 1998

Let me just share a few perspectives -- based on my career as an engineer and from my vantage point at the National Science Foundation.

It might be best for us to start with the bottom line. These findings speak directly to our investment as a nation in learning, discovery, exploration, innovation, and all fields of endeavor in engineering, science, and technology. The starting point for all of this is strong and sustained public support, appreciation, and understanding.

This comes home to us in many ways. Just last week, food safety issues were once again in the news. People are surprised when I tell them that food safety is an engineering issue. It's just engineering at the microbial level. We need sensors to detect pathogens, and one day we may put microchips in packaging to monitor products from processing to point of sale.

These are just two out of a great number of examples that speak to the role of engineers in society today -- and to the contributions of NSF and other Federal agencies to our national welfare. The results we'll be learning about today should both encourage us in these endeavors and help fortify our resolve.

Earlier this summer, the National Science Board's biannual Science and Engineering Indicators report helped focus our attention on many of these same issues -- especially as they relate to public attitudes and to scientific and technological literacy. Today, we'll gain greater insight, and we'll be reminded that we have our work cut out for us as a community.

The positives almost speak for themselves. There is very strong public support for science and technology -- and for investments in research, even when the research produces no immediate benefit. These kinds of results put us right up there with Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa when it comes to hitting home runs.

Unfortunately, not all of the news is good. This positive public support is accompanied by images and perceptions that are out in left field. The Indicators report found such a low level of national scientific literacy that even Jay Leno took us to task.

We don't know how today's results will play on late night television, but we do know they deserve our attention. We still see disturbing and misguided perceptions of the role and contribution of engineers and scientists in our society.

For this reason, it is worth recalling a timeless definition: The scientist seeks to understand what is; the engineer seeks to create what has not been. Both of these functions are vital in today's world, and they are increasingly inseparable.

Our gathering here today should help to fortify our resolve:

  • Our efforts must begin at the K-12 level -- with outreach, mentoring, and countless other activities at the grassroots.

  • At the undergraduate and graduate levels, we are already well on the way to bringing engineering education into the 21st Century. We used to pride ourselves on prerequisites. Now we focus on the fundamental core of engineering -- the ability to take a concept and run with it. That is happening through a host of programs, like NSF's Engineering Education Coalitions and Engineering Research Centers.

  • Finally, embedded in all of these activities must be our commitment to bridging the various gender gaps and demographic differences that remain thorns in our sides. More than just a moral imperative, this is now a key to our continued vitality as a nation. Diversity has become an absolute must -- diversity in views, in approaches, and in backgrounds. Without it, we will never see beyond the limits of our individual perspectives and achieve the breakthroughs that occur only through the synthesis of widely different skills and perspectives.

To conclude, let me just say that to conquer these challenges, we'll need to muster creativity, leadership, imagination, and insight -- at levels that have never previously existed. In my mind, that makes this the perfect job for engineers.



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