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Photo of Joseph Bordogna

Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Deputy Director
Chief Operating Officer
National Science Foundation

Remarks at the Pathways to Science, Engineering, Mathematics, and Technology Workshop
Workforce for the 21st Century Priority Area

October 24, 2003

Thank you for the opportunity to make remarks today. The subject of these deliberations is both a concern and a passion for all of us in this room - the success of our nation’s future depends on strategic and action-oriented meetings about broadening participation in science and engineering such as this one. I think all of us here recognize that if our 21st Century science and engineering workforce is not representative of our domestic population, we as a nation will miss the most promising opportunity for continued US success. The loss will cut two ways -- it will rob worthy individuals of the chance to enrich their lives and to contribute to the engine of our economy and culture, and it will undermine the ability of our nation to prosper within an increasingly competitive world.

At this workshop you will be engaged in examining an NSF investment particularly designed to broaden participation in the science and engineering community, and you will struggle with approaches to holistic action to profit from that investment, important issues that I am sure you will tackle vigorously.

Along the way in our lives, we have learned that wanting to broaden the participation of underrepresented minorities, persons with disabilities, and women in science and engineering education and careers is just not enough. There must be action agenda that create paths for making this happen ... along with the hard, dedicated work that must be done to realize results. A focused NSF priority area investment portfolio can be powerful leverage toward this end.

Your work here at this workshop is fundamental to accelerating action on the know-how the science and engineering community, within its various parts, has garnered over the past three decades on how to broaden participation. The intent now can be to capitalize on these myriad separate investments by integrating and synergizing them to embrace scope and realize scale.

As stated in the material describing this workshop, you will focus mostly on the NSF action investment called Workforce for the 21st Century. This budget priority area undergirds the core of the Foundation's mandated mission to advance the frontiers of science and engineering and to promote high quality science, engineering, mathematics, and technology education from primary school through graduate education. Its focus is on our domestic population and on broadening participation throughout all NSF investments.

We, here, have all been party to developing the building blocks of this workforce investment, in one way or another, over several decades. Now is the time to integrate them. Now is the time to make the whole greater than the sum of the individual building blocks.

In this context, the future of science and engineering lies not only within the great legacy of success we've enjoyed up to today, but also, and more importantly, in the making of the scientists and engineers of tomorrow. Foremost in this effort is our design of the process by which we enlist, educate, engage, ensure diversity, and instill passion and ethical behavior in the next generation of scientists and engineers. The design is something we can formulate now – it is a necessary next step in an accelerated journey toward change, change that will neither confine nor constrict our potential.

Our design must incorporate actions for the proactive recruitment and retention of more women, underrepresented minorities, and persons with disabilities. The nation's demographics have been moving toward a majority of minorities for many years. We have neglected to capitalize on this change; we have neglected the opportunities that this change offers. We are now playing catch up in a very competitive world.

Most of us would agree that U.S. science and engineering education is the best in the world. The frontier research of cutting-edge tools and skill sets that characterize our nation's science and engineering schools make them intellectual magnets, drawing students from every nation of the world. The result of this global corps of scientists and engineers is the diffusing of new knowledge and technology across international borders, thus contributing to our common future on the planet.

But this raises an obvious and sobering question. If U.S. science and engineering education is the greatest in the world, why aren't domestic students flocking to the fold?

We have to ask ourselves: Will there be a robust mix of knowledgeable workers to meet the need for such talent in our society? Will an exodus of international talent, combined with growing numbers of engineers trained in other nations throughout the world, and staying where they are trained, dull the competitive edge we enjoy in the United States?

The U.S. has neglected proactive recruitment of our domestic talent. As a strategic, as well as equitable, manifestation of this intent for societal advancement, we unequivocally need more U.S. women and underrepresented minorities in the S&E workforce. If we don't encourage individuals from all diverse groups to enter into the complex and dynamic fields of science and engineering, we lose out on the opportunity to maximize the potential of our intellectual capital.

The differences that abound in race and ethnicity in our society should be encouraged and embraced. They are a gift for our future and should be nurtured. The divisions should be erased. They are a drag on our energy and creativity.

In this context, there is something more enabling about the era in which we live than any of the past.

We have moved into a whole new threshold of capabilities that breach with the past and that will catapult us beyond today's horizons, thereby muting the divisions. The advent of cyberinfrastructure has resulted in a potential leveling of the playing field – it has endowed many with the capability to find the information and tools they seek to educate themselves and make contributions. Cyberinfrastructure is an equalizer, an enabler. It will increasingly democratize education and opportunity. Despite such tools, though, unless the desire and the drive exist in the individual, capability alone will not lead to success. This is where we come in. It is our job to plant the seeds of curiosity, interest, enablement, and the kind of education from which both present and future generations will sow the benefits.

But how do we go about making this change? Our well-being as individuals and as a nation depends, now and far into the future, on how well we prepare all our human resources today. Every American must be "counted in" when providing opportunities and "counted on" for contributions to society. But before we can count on people, we must assume some responsibility for their preparation. That's why, at NSF, investment in "People" is one of our four strategic goals. And that's why we've created a new priority area, Workforce for the 21st Century, as an overarching strategic priority area for our "People" goal.

As steward of the health of our nation's science and engineering enterprise, NSF works at the frontier of research and education, where risks and rewards are high, and where potential benefits to society are most promising.

Congress chartered the National Science Foundation to "promote the progress of science; [and] to advance the national health, prosperity and welfare..." Preparing the nation's workforce for the challenges of the 21st century world is central to this mission. The workers we educate today will be tomorrow's discoverers, innovators and entrepreneurs, and the guardians of our health and well-being. We must make sure that they are as well educated as workers anywhere in the world. And we must make sure that they represent our diverse society—all of it.

NSF already administers several programs which specifically address underrepresented segments of our domestic talent. Many other grants, awards, and cooperative agreements support inclusive activities. This new priority area- Workforce for the 21st Century—will integrate the impact of existing programs by crafting them into an enabling system to accelerate the capabilities of those who know how to produce graduates from underrepresented groups.

Just a few days ago, The New York Times interviewed Praveen Chaudhari, the director of Brookhaven National Laboratory and a former vice-president for science at IBM. Asked to provide insight on the immigration of scientists, Dr. Chaudhari replied, "in India, it's well known that you can go to the U.S. and do well. The reason most South Asians come is because they hear in the newspaper about all the great things that are possible, the jobs, the lack of discrimination..."

In other words, they've seen the light of Lady Liberty's torch. Sometimes it seems the torch is more difficult to see from within our borders than from outside them. The Statue of Liberty's torch must light the way for those inside our borders as well as those from across the borders. What we need is a genuine open-door policy.

One of the challenges we must accept, if we aspire to be leaders, is this: How can we enable our domestic youth to be full participants in our great democratic system while continuing the successful policy of embracing those from abroad?

Workforce for the 21st Century represents NSF's effort to meet that challenge. It takes all that we know about educating a capable and diverse workforce, and integrates it strategically, across programs and across directorates. It first appears as a separate priority area in the FY2004 budget, which is now before Congress. We plan to support the goals of this priority area through three types of investments:

  • Integrative Institutional Collaborations
  • Faculty for the Future
  • Workforce Research

Integrative Institutional Collaborations will build upon a host of successful programs, many of which are familiar to you, like Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, Historically Black College and University-Undergraduate Program, the Advanced Technology Education Program, which targets collegiate learning institutions where the greatest number of underrepresented minorities study. Within the Workforce priority area, we will look at ways to weave together and integrate these programs vertically, providing minority students with seamless routes for advancement from elementary school to a scientific career. Collaborations will draw resources from many different kinds of institutions-- research universities, private companies and industrial organizations, local school systems, community colleges, NSF-sponsored research centers, and undergraduate colleges.

The second investment area, Faculty for the Future, will invest in teacher preparation and professional development for all faculty--a term which includes everyone from kindergarten teachers to professors at research universities. One component will use the nation's cyberinfrastructure to speed the connectivity of everyone to learning and research tools. All levels of education--elementary, secondary, and higher education-- will benefit from technology enabling distributed collaborations, access to leading-edge equipment, or individualized learning. A second component of Faculty for the Future targets research capacity at Minority Serving Institutions. It will promote long-term partner and mentor relationships between MSI faculty and their counterparts at research centers. This will help build research capacity and promote the learning-through-research environment at MSIs, complementing existing student-centered programs like Research Experiences for Undergraduates.

The third investment area, Workforce Research, supports continued efforts to identify critical experiences and strategies for attracting and retaining students in science and engineering. Program evaluation and studies of factors involved in successfully replicating exemplary projects will also be included. This investment complements existing NSF programs like the Centers for Learning and Teaching.

You will be spending serious time on these three components at this Workshop. The Workforce for the 21st Century investment recognizes that future scientists pass through the educational system along a multitude of intersecting paths. To paraphrase your workshop organizers, an individual student's journey to a scientific career may well be idiosyncratic and serendipitous. We don’t want to eliminate serendipity, or attempt to make uniform pathways. We do want to eliminate dead ends and roadblocks, build connecting roads or bridges where none exist, open locked doors, knock down barriers, and regrade some of the steeper slopes. These are well-known tasks for scientists and engineers, though not easy ones.

Many of our existing programs address one or more of these impediments. In Integrative Institutional Collaborations, we look at them all holistically, as parts of an interconnected system. The behavior of a system depends both on the characteristics of the individual pieces and on the way in which they are tied together. The innovative ideas may well come from looking at the connections between various pathways through the educational system and their effect on students' mobility through the entire process. The goal is synergy—combining individual career pathways supported by institutions or programs into an intersecting, supportive network whose variety and capacity exceeds the sum of its parts.

As your workshop proceeds, please discuss what we do and don't know about achieving that kind of synergy. Examine the kinds of connections that have worked well in the past, and the kinds that haven't. The roadblocks and barriers to be overcome may or may not be obvious.

Workforce for the 21st Century is an expression of NSF's commitment to break down barriers faced by women, minorities, and persons with disabilities whatever they are and wherever they appear. In the next few days, as you ponder how to optimize the return on NSF's investment in Workforce for the 21st Century, I implore you to think holistically. Think about how we can use the tools and knowledge we already have to restructure career pathways in science and engineering. Envision a network of pathways which allows students from many different starting points to set out for a variety of endpoints—researcher, educator, industry leader, entrepreneur. Where you see barriers, build new paths around them. Where you see chasms, build bridges across them. There will still be plenty of opportunities for the idiosyncratic twists and turns that characterize a life in science and engineering.

Return to a list of Dr. Bordogna's speeches.


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