Skip To Content Skip To Left Navigation
NSF Logo Search GraphicGuide To Programs GraphicImage Library GraphicSite Map GraphicHelp GraphicPrivacy Policy Graphic
OLPA Header Graphic

Dr. Colwell's Remarks


Dr. Rita R. Colwell
The U.S. Science, Engineering and Technology Workforce of the Future:
National Strategy, National Portfolio, National Resource Base
Renaissance Hotel
Washington, DC

July 29, 1998

Thank you and good morning to all.

First -- Welcome All! I am delighted to be a part of today's discussions.

Let me also welcome you to Washington DC in July -- a month when most people in this town flock to the beach, not to the conference room. So I'm equally delighted to see such a dedicated group here today.

While I'm pleased to see this active group here, I'm not really surprised because you are committed and we've got some very important issues to discuss over the next two days -- issues that are critical to the future prosperity of all citizens, regardless of background.

We've heard already from the Working Group Co-chairs -- Arthur Bienenstock and Martha Krebs -- who have devoted so much time and effort to workforce and diversity issues. In their opening statements, they've neatly set out the seniors challenges we are facing. I want to thank them for their excellent contributions.

There's a great deal we need to discuss, so I don't want to take up much of your time this morning. Let me just leave you with a story that exemplifies what this workshop is all about.

Last week Congress made a recognition that has profound implications for our discussions today. In all the debate over health care, and the terrible tragedy at the end of the week, it may have been overlooked.

Last week, the House paid tribute to Congressman Louis Stokes. As many of you know, Congressman Stokes is retiring this year. I cannot overstate how great a loss this is for the Congress, the NSF and the entire science community.

During his tenure in Congress, Mr. Stokes was a true champion for federal education programs, including NSF support for science and engineering education. But most important for our discussions today, he was a tireless advocate for NSF activities aimed at increasing the participation of women, and underrepresented minorities in all areas of science and engineering.

Lou Stokes came to Congress in the pivotal year of 1968, in a time of immense civil unrest. In the next thirty years, the barriers to the inclusion of underrepresented minorities and women in science and engineering gradually began to fall. I think it is safe to say that this would not have occurred without the leadership of individuals like Mr. Stokes. Nevertheless, we still have a long way to go in the area of diversity in science and engineering. Sadly -- despite all the progress that has been made since 1968 -- the picture for minorities in many fields of science and engineering remains worrisome.

Looking at minority graduate enrollment data over the past thirty years, one would have to conclude not much progress has been made. To give just one example -- one of too many such examples -- the number of African-American Ph.Ds in a field like computing has barely increased in recent decades. From zero or one doctorate per year in the seventies, the number has edged up only to the four or five who graduate now. Proportion of women has gone from 40% in the eighties to 14% in 1997. Something very unsettling is going on.

Clearly, the digital revolution has not yet swept major sectors of our population into the excitement. This does not bode well for our collective future.

Let me conclude by referring back to legacy of Louis Stokes. It's been thirty years since he first came to Congress -- and after thirty years we stand at a pivotal moment. In many ways, we are continuing the work of leaders like Mr. Stokes to improve opportunities in science and engineering for all citizens, regardless of background.

But we are faced with a world that is decidedly different that in 1968. As we strive to improve opportunities in science and engineering and technology for all, we face challenges to inclusion and opportunity that are in many ways more complex and more subtle. Demographics alone tell us that we live in a much more diverse society than in the 1960's and our population in the U.S. will be even more diverse in the future.

That is why we need a new strategy and a new direction for human resource development in science and engineering. For if we are to prosper as a nation in the 21st Century, we will need the talents of all citizens, especially groups underrepresented in science and engineering.

Again, let me welcome all to this important workshop. I look forward to our discussions.

Thank you.



National Science Foundation
Office of Legislative and Public Affairs
4201 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, Virginia 22230, USA
Tel: 703-292-8070
FIRS: 800-877-8339 | TDD: 703-292-5090

NSF Logo Graphic