Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Acting Deputy Director
NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
American Association of Engineering Societies/
National Academy of Engineering
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,
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
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
- 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
- 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.