Dr. Rita R. Colwell
NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
The U.S. Science, Engineering and Technology Workforce
of the Future:
National Strategy, National Portfolio, National Resource
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
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
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
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.