Vannevar Bush Award
News Release (NSB/VB-2007-3)
Transformational Leader in Higher Education and Government, Shirley Ann Jackson, to
Receive the Vannevar Bush Award
Science Board cites her leadership by example in science, public policy, education
Shirley Ann Jackson, who has led a national movement to respond to what she calls a "quiet
crisis" in the science and engineering work force that has the potential to severely impact the
nation's innovative capacity, will receive the Vannevar Bush Award for a lifetime of achievements
in scientific research, education and senior statesman-like contributions to public policy.
Jackson also is being recognized for her advocacy on global energy security, and for
innovations she implemented as Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (1995-99), and
for her role in leading an institutional transformation at the nation’s oldest technological
"Shirley Ann Jackson has been a leader on many fronts, and she has incorporated scientific
approaches into all of her work, especially on policy issues of international importance and in
reforming one of the nation's important educational institutions," said Steven C. Beering,
chairman of the National Science Board. "She's a national treasure deserving of the Vannevar
Bush Award for her widely valued public service and contributions to the nation and the
The National Science Board will honor Jackson May 14 in an awards ceremony at the State
Department in Washington, D.C., where she was born and raised.
Waking the Nation To A "Quiet Crisis"
Jackson, who is president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., has been
stating her concern about impending retirements in fields of science, technology, engineering
and mathematics in both academe and industry for almost a decade, saying that there are not
enough students in the pipeline to replace the record number of retirements on the horizon in
these fields. She notes that the country’s economic and national security is dependent upon its
capacity for innovation, and innovation is driven by people -- scientists, engineers and
mathematicians whose numbers will dwindle over the next decade unless something is done to
reverse the current trend.
She believes that waking up to the "quiet crisis" requires engaging everyone, including
women and minorities who have traditionally been underrepresented in STEM fields.
The crisis is "quiet," Jackson says, because it takes decades to educate future scientists
and engineers, so "the impact unfolds gradually."
She says science is in a "crisis" because "without innovation we fail - as a nation and
as a world." And she reasons that the ebbs and flows in science funding across disciplines
have a "deleterious impact on the creation of a new generation of scientists and engineers" –
and, therefore, our innovative capacity against a backdrop of increasing capabilities abroad.
Jackson has lectured on this topic extensively around the country and the world. In 2002,
she authored a major report on "The Quiet Crisis," then brought her campaign to Washington when
she became president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 2004.
She was actively involved in the Council on Competitiveness' National Innovation Initiative, was
among the authors of the National Academies "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" report, and is on
the National Governors Association Innovation America Task Force.
Jackson says it is now "time to turn rhetoric into reality," and says the solution must
come from all sectors: government, business and academe.
Jackson believes global energy security is the greatest challenge of our time, and has
suggested energy research as a national focal point to address the nation's "quiet crisis," much
like the influx into science and engineering that resulted from President John F. Kennedy's
post-Sputnik call to action. Dr. Jackson says "energy security is the space race of this
Leading a Renaissance at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Jackson's legacy at Rensselaer has grown swiftly and assuredly. In seven years, she has
revitalized and transformed the 183-year-old university into a financially solid, broad-based
academic institution with a much greater diversity in the sciences and technology and a much
enhanced concentration of multidisciplinary academic programs – a true renaissance for the oldest
technological university in the nation.
The transformation of Rensselaer under Jackson's Rensselaer Plan has been spectacular.
Her $1.4 billion-dollar campaign has already achieved more than $1.2 billion in gifts and gift
commitments, including an anonymous, unrestricted gift of $360 million. The work has helped
Jackson deepen research activities through a tripling of awards, attracting a much broader array
of faculty and intellectual leaders, and stimulating entrepreneurial educational activities.
Jackson had developed a sound managerial plan linking programs, plans, and resource budgeting
and allocation. Her results have helped Rensselaer become a national model for the transformation
of higher education, while the 2007 Kaplan/Newsweek "How to Get into College Guide" cites the
institution as one of 25 schools on an elite "new Ivies" list. As of the end of February,
Rensselaer received more than 10,100 enrollment applications for the 2007-2008 school year, 46
percent more than the previous year, and 81 percent greater than the pool for 2005-2006. Over
the past two years, applications from women increased 96 percent, and from historically
underrepresented students, 147 percent.
(See: http://news.rpi.edu/update.do?artcenterkey-1947 )
The Vannevar Bush Award will honor Jackson's work at Rensselaer. However, the award is
broader, honoring an individual for lifetime of achievements in science and technology (S&T),
such as: success in pioneering exploration; leadership and creativity that inspires others into
S&T careers; notable public service; and contributions to the nation and mankind.
In these areas, Jackson's achievements also speak volumes.
A theoretical physicist at Fermilab for two years, then at the former AT&T Bell
Laboratories in New Jersey from 1976-91, Jackson distinguished herself in studies and papers
published in the fields of solid state and quantum physics, and optical physics. Her particular
contributions were in her work on optical and electronic properties of layered materials.
In 1985 she was tapped by the first of three New Jersey governors who sought her service
on various commissions and task forces in the state, beginning with her appointment to the New
Jersey Commission on Science and Technology, on which she served for a decade.
In 1991, Jackson turned to education, joining Rutgers University as a physics professor.
There, her reputation became known as a researcher, teacher, manager and policy advocate.
Leading Change at the NRC
Jackson's work at Rutgers got the attention of the White House, and in 1995, President
Clinton swayed Jackson into public service at the national level by appointing her to the U.S.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), where she stayed until becoming president of Rensselaer.
At the NRC, Jackson instituted comprehensive regulatory and management changes. Coming
into an agency often criticized for being too closely linked to industry, Jackson toughened
standards of safety, and instituted an entirely new framework for managing the safety and
security of U.S. nuclear power plants. The concept Jackson introduced, called "risk-informed,
performance-based regulation," was a science-based policy that was implemented across NRC
Jackson tenaciously and effectively managed the new system, which is credited with
improving the safety and economy of nuclear power production nationwide and laying the
groundwork for the recent re-emergence of nuclear power in the United States. Elements of this
system were adopted by other nations, and Jackson's impetus on this new cooperation allowed her
to expand the NRC's international influence. She spearhead the formation of the International
Nuclear Regulators Association (INRA),for which she served as its first chairman from 1997 until
1999. In 1999, she left the NRC for her presidential post at Rensselaer.
Opening Doors for Others - A Lifetime of Firsts
Described by Time Magazine (2005) as "perhaps the ultimate role model for women in
science," Jackson achieved many firsts in her career.
In 1973, she completed an historic first -- a doctoral degree in physics from the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the first African-American woman to receive a doctorate of
any kind from MIT. At the NRC, Jackson was the first African-American to be a commissioner on,
and first woman to chair, the commission. She also was the first African-American woman to be
elected to the National Academy of Engineering and to preside over a major national research
university (Rensselaer). She is the first African-American woman to be presented the Vannevar
Bush Award in its 27-year history, providing an exclamation point to her list of firsts.
But Jackson, though proud of her groundbreaking achievements, prefers to focus on her
track record in public policy and as an advocate for science and education. She speaks publicly
of the nation's need to invest more heavily in basic scientific research and for other scientists
to become more actively engaged in public policy as an important facet to encourage the public's
buy-in to what they do.
Jackson recently told a gathering at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard
University that "the exponential rise in the volume and availability of information" influences
the perception of science and scientists' roles, and the "acceptance of both." Her concerns
focus on how this glut of information affects the public in "choos(ing) its truth and settl(ing)
upon what it will accept as fact." Jackson says it is an imperative for scientists to exert
consistent leadership to counter confusion over science and mistrust of their work.
The Vannevar Bush Award was established in 1980 to honor the unique contributions of a
prominent World War Two-era scientist and presidential adviser.
In 1945, at President Franklin D. Roosevelt's urging, Bush reported a series of
recommendations for a post-war system of federal research and education to broaden the nation's
scientific and technological expertise in many fields. His book, Science: The Endless Frontier,
is often cited as the document spurring the eventual formation of the National Science
Foundation in 1950. NSF is the federal agency that supports primarily university-based
research across almost all fields of science and engineering.
The National Science Board is an independent 24-member body of policy advisors to the
president and Congress on matters of science and engineering research, and is the policy making
and oversight body for the National Science Foundation (NSF), an independent federal agency that
supports almost all areas of fundamental research nationwide.
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