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Dr. Colwell's Remarks


"Radiant Equations for Learning and Leadership in the 21st Century"

Dr. Rita R. Colwell
National Science Foundation
Dedication of The Joan and James Leitzel Center
for Mathematics, Science, and Engineering Education
University of New Hampshire

Durham, New Hampshire

April 30, 2003

See also slide presentation.

If you're interested in reproducing any of the slides, please contact
The Office of Legislative and Public Affairs: (703) 292-8070.

Thank you, Karen, for the very kind introduction, and President Hart, for your gracious hospitality.

Good afternoon to all - and thank you for welcoming me here on this special day.

It's always a pleasure coming home to New England, especially to a long-awaited spring. Coming from Washington, we've already witnessed the transition from snow, to mud, to cherry blossoms, and to oak pollen. So it's a treat for me to have a second chance at seeing the new green begin to put winter aside -- and an opportunity to reflect on my many friendships at UNH.

About a year ago, I had the privilege of taping a short segment for the bon voyage video UNH filmed for Joan on the occasion of her retiring as President. Despite retirement, Joan continues her unwavering service to education, as current Chair of the Mathematical Sciences Education Board, and in many other ways.

Today, I share in the joy and gratitude that greets her first return to campus, and the honor of celebrating with you the Dedication of the Joan and James Leitzel Center for Mathematics, Science, and Engineering Education.

[title slide]
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I have chosen as the theme for my talk today - "Radiant Equations for Learning and Leadership in the 21st Century." Learning and leadership are inextricably linked in today's knowledge-based economy, powered by advances in mathematics, science, and engineering.

Educational excellence in these critical and convergent disciplines drives our nation's innovation, develops our workforce, and provides for our health and security.

[slide: equation]
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This is the primary radiant equation: the learning of science becomes the learning of leadership.

When I use the equation as a metaphor, I mean to emphasize that mathematics is everywhere in our daily world -- from computer games, electronic music, and the Internet, to medical diagnostic tests, design of new prescription drugs, and laser surgery.

[slide: Feynman quote with fractal]
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It may be a bit of a stretch to say that the Tree of Life is equivalent to the branches of mathematics. The physicist-teacher Richard Feynman liked to say that "Nature speaks in mathematics." "If you want to learn about nature, to appreciate nature, it is necessary to understand the language that she speaks in."

[slide: nautilus shell]
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We've learned that the form of a nautilus shell displays an exact replica of the logarithmic spiral. We've learned that Fibonacci sequences are expressed by flowers in the number of their petals, by pinecones in their two series of curves, and pineapples in their diagonals.

Mathematics not only provides a common language for science, but a powerful tool for insight.

[slide: fractal]
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A good example, pictured here, is the fractal, a famous illustration of how inner principles of mathematics enable us to model many natural structures.

[slide: VLA at sunset]
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Cosmologists are beginning to draw an impressive portrait of the structure of the universe - using mathematics as the medium.

[slide: El Niño]
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In the realm of climate, our ability to predict El Niño - the irregular shifts in ocean and atmospheric conditions - is a superb example of where mathematics and computing have brought us.

[slide: E.O. Wilson quote] image not available
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E. O. Wilson writes that, "...mathematics seems to point arrow-like toward the ultimate goal of objective truth."

Indeed, mathematics is the discipline that illuminates all science and engineering, and the cross-cutting work of the National Science Foundation.

[slide: mathematical molecule model]
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The astounding progress that has been made in mathematical modeling, statistical methods, and computational algorithms has lifted all disciplines to entirely new levels of inquiry.

[slide: NSF priority areas]
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NSF identifies and supports emerging opportunities that hold exceptional promise to advance untapped frontiers of knowledge. NSF's current priority areas -- Biocomplexity in the Environment, Nanoscale Science and Engineering, and Information Technology Research, Human and Social Dynamics, Workforce for the 21st Century, and Mathematical Sciences - all speak to the importance of mathematical knowledge, tools, and education.

Discoveries along these frontiers will bring the next waves of innovation and societal change around the globe. Our nation aspires to continue to lead at those frontiers. The work of the National Science Foundation and its university partners will enable it to happen.

[slide: NSF researchers and teachers]
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In our knowledge-based economy, researchers and teachers of math, science, and engineering provide the assets and working capital. Teachers are switching stations for the transfer of these resources to the next generation. Through them flow the necessary skills, concepts, and data that produce a cadre of talented scientists and engineers and make a general workforce capable of running the complex societal engine that is the United States today.

Educators must ensure that our math, science and engineering education succeeds in empowering the next generation to realize its full potential.

And here, at UNH, in the Leitzel Center and in your other centers for interdisciplinary research and education -- is where the hard, but exciting, work gets done.

I believe that no group should feel more responsibility for math and science in the classroom than mathematics teachers, researchers, scientists, and engineers. Truly, no aspect of our children's instruction will have a greater impact on their future than providing for their fundamental competence in science and mathematics.

[slide: US Commission quote]
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As the report released in January 2001 by the United States Commission on National Security/21st Century stated: "...the inadequacies of our systems of research and education pose a greater threat to U.S. national security over the next quarter century than any potential conventional war we might imagine."

The truth is -- that while other nations are producing more graduates in math and computer science, the physical sciences and engineering, we are simply not producing, the number of scientists and skilled citizens to meet the needs of today's society. This does not bode well for tomorrow's need, which will be far greater.

Here in New Hampshire, many have noted that a shortage of engineers, and college graduates in computer science and mathematics, is slowing the growth of the state's economy, which is highly dependent on your expanding high-tech industries.

[slide: girl at computer]
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Our nation and its communities need what was once considered extraordinary knowledge to become more common, ordinary knowledge at all levels of society. Otherwise, the accelerating pace of progress will leave too many children and adults behind.

[slide: kids, teachers, computers]
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Higher education is urgently needed, and I believe, extremely qualified to collaborate in the professional development of pre-service and in-service K-12 teachers.

[slide: three age groups]
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Traditionally, "grand canyons" have developed between our K-12 science and math education system and our undergraduate and graduate education systems. We need to bridge these inherently-connected systems in dynamic collaborations with state and local entities.

Two-way outreach and exchange between institutions of higher learning and their K-12 communities is essential to secure science and society connections for all 21st-century students.

Everyone knows the regret of a missed opportunity, of a gate that never opened for us, or a gate for which we couldn't find the key or the confidence to unlock and walk through. One of my senior staff members recently told me what happened when she bought a new car.

Her family mechanic for more than 20 years admired the new Saturn. And then said, "You know, I can't work on your car anymore. It's run by computers."

Meeting the challenges of our nation's expanded need for math, science, and engineering education underlies the establishment of the Leitzel Center - from endowment to dedication.

[slide: second equation]
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Leslie Hubbard, the Leitzels, and now President Hart, have clearly focused on the power of the radiant equation -- that the science of learning is the science of leadership.

[slide: equation]
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This equation is equally true when we reverse the order of the terms on each side to read: the learning of science is equal to the learning of leadership.

Leslie Hubbard and the Leitzels were far-sighted and of singular focus in using this equation. UNH and the citizens, students, and industries of New Hampshire will be the beneficiaries. I believe that NSF has been similarly far-sighted.

Long-term investment in a strategic vision governs NSF's programs for securing the health of math, science, and engineering education in our country.

[slide: students and teachers]
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Our initiatives start with early education and provide programmatic points of focus on elementary, secondary and higher education to create a rich environment that melds research, teacher education, and education practice.

[slide: NSF bullets]
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Among the many components of NSF's math and science push are: the Science of Learning Centers; the Centers for Learning and Teaching; the K-12 Graduate Teaching Fellowships; and the President's Math and Science Partnership program.

The Science of Learning Centers operate at the crossroads of many disciplinary frontiers - in cognitive and behavioral science, linguistics, computer science, mathematics, engineering, and psychology. Integrating the latest knowledge in such diverse fields is a formidable and fascinating challenge - and well worth the investment. The FY 2004 budget provides $20 million to fund 3-5 new Science of Learning Centers.

The Centers for Learning and Teaching focus on the advanced preparation of math, science, engineering and technology teachers. In addition, they promote the establishment of meaningful partnerships among Ph.D. granting institutions, school systems, and information education venues.

Their goals are to renew, diversify, and increase the number of K-16 educators who can deliver high-quality instruction and assessment; and to conduct research into teaching strategies, reform policies, and outcomes.

The K-12 Graduate Teaching Fellowships enable graduate students and advanced undergraduates in the sciences, mathematics, engineering, and technology to serve as resources in K-12 schools. This program literally brings the university to the classroom.

These Fellows serve as resources for teachers in science and mathematics instruction, while the teachers facilitate improved communication and teaching skills for the Fellows. Everyone benefits. K-12 students enjoy enriched learning.

K-12 teachers enjoy professional development opportunities. And existing partnerships between institutions of higher education and local school districts are strengthened.

[slide: MSP funding]
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A program that is generating enthusiasm across the country is the Math and Science Partnership for which NSF is the lead agency. The MSP Program is a five-year $1.0 billion investment in building math and science skills. NSF is currently in the process of awarding the second installment of $200 million.

The MSP Program intends that mathematicians, scientists, and engineers, at institutions of higher learning, participate fully in the improvement of K-12 math and science education. They do this in committed partnerships with state and local school systems, as well as other institutions of higher learning and community stakeholders.

These partnerships are all about teachers learning from other teachers. The ultimate result will be that K-12 students are better nourished to the highest levels of their desire and abilities, and science literacy is built for the whole of society.

NSF recognizes that all successful partnerships enhance the credibility of all participants. In the shared education enterprise, it is important that the wealth of opportunity is not sacrificed for any citizen-stakeholder in the equation.

[slide: X,Y]
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Successful partnerships will require taking "the roads less traveled" -- between the "x" of our location and the "Y" of our destination. As New Hampshire's Robert Frost concludes in his memorable poem: "I took the road less traveled by,/ And that has made all the difference."

Success for the Leitzel Center can make a significant difference for the future prosperity of its local, state, regional and national community.

[slide: Frost quote]
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Happy Dedication. In the words once more of Robert Frost: - "The fact is the sweetest dream that labour knows." I wish each of you the power and promise of his radiant equation.

Thank you.



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