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Graduate Education and Research: The Integrated Passion

Photo of Joseph Bordogna

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

Remarks, Opening address to CIRTL Forum
University of Wisconsin-Madison
November 5, 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.

Good morning, and thank you very much for the invitation to inaugurate your first CIRTL forum with this address. I intend to take this opportunity to encourage you to be provocative with your efforts in integrating research and education, to back you up—so to speak—as you take risks in provoking change in academe.

But first, Dean Cadwallader's kind introduction gives me an opening to mention that as I was preparing for today's talk, one of my NSF colleagues, Lynn Simarski, exclaimed as she recognized Martin Cadwallader's name on today's agenda. Lynn told me that, twenty-five years ago, as a geography student here at U.W., she was facing the required statistics course with considerable dread. However, Dean Cadwallader's teaching of introductory statistics turned out to be so brilliant that Lynn still credits him with a "true epiphany" in her understanding of statistics. The wisdom of good teachers and mentors marks us for life—truly a core reason to make teaching and learning an integral and explicit part of graduate education.

It is a special pleasure to chat here this morning with folks committed to the integration of research and education. The journey you have begun is aligned with one of NSF's strategic intents, along with investment in intellectual capital and promoting partnerships. NSF's strategic plan and our investment portfolio, available on our website, give valuable context for how your activities reverberate in, and receive whole-hearted support from, NSF. We urge you to see your work in the context of how important it is in helping to drive NSF's strategic envelope.

Collectively, you are at the forefront of implementing NSF's strategic intents—all three of them. I'm delighted to be part of the foment around how we can enable current and future faculty to engage in education with the same passion as they engage in research.

Since we're meeting here at Wisconsin, I'll draw upon a local example of a faculty member who embodies the principle of research and education being two sides of the same "integrated" coin. U.W. plant pathologist Paul Williams invented what are called "Fast Plants"—these go from being a seed to producing seed in just 35 days. Fast plants were first developed as a research tool for biologists, but have come to be used in science classrooms around the globe. Because the plants grow and develop so fast, students can study the plants' genetic changes over a semester. Professor Williams says fast plants "became part of a larger sea-change in the way biology is taught. We measure our success," he says, "by how much our ideas are adopted and adapted." What a glowing example of integrating education and research!

Throughout my own career, I have had a passion for the integration of teaching and learning with research, within both undergraduate and graduate education. Educating engineers has occupied the greater part of my life. While I was Dean of Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, we experienced the usual challenges in supporting our graduate students financially as well as intellectually. One mechanism of financial support, still ubiquitous across academe, was to appoint first-year graduate students as Teaching Assistants (TAs), a kind of itinerant labor, performed ad-hoc for pay, and rarely integrated within the students' research activities. This practice fosters the attitude among students that teaching is some sort of "add-on", not part and parcel of their doctoral education.

However, our Department of Chemical Engineering implemented quite another approach—to support all first-year graduate students fully the first year, with stipend funds drawn primarily from departmental general funds contributed by the Dean, industry and endowment income. Then, around each student's third year, he or she would undertake a teaching practicum—first, being given preparation on how to teach and, second, teaching undergrads as a component of the doctoral curriculum.

When I tried to institutionalize this paradigm across the school, one argument posed against it was that since the graduate students were partly supported by industrial monies, industry would not want their investment used for a teaching practicum. So, I canvassed a group of CEOs--and 100% of them said they'd love to hire PhDs with both teaching training and experience!

Indeed, graduate students today may follow ever more diverse pathways, yet all will need the skills of teaching and learning, whether they end up as professors, practicing in industry, or serving in government.

Another memory from my career related to your Forum's topic is from the mid-1980s, when I served as Chair of the first NSF Committee of Visitors (COV), for the Presidential Young Investigators program. The NSF program officers had the wonderful idea of conducting a workshop the day prior to the start of the COV work. This workshop was peopled with a pack of PYIs and a bunch of vice provosts and vice presidents of research. As the workshop got underway, the PYIs strongly expressed their frustration with their department chairs and faculty mentors, who had told them that since they had five years of robust financial support from NSF, they should forget teaching, and focus only on research. What an anti-education signal that gave during a pre-tenure period! This "fracas" eventually caused the PYI program to morph into NSF's current program for early career development for faculty, known as CAREER (I'll return to CAREER a bit later on).

Attitudes about what a graduate education means have thankfully evolved, and you are all in the vanguard of that evolution. Yet, our work is not about taking a broken model and trying to fix it—far from it. Our graduate schools are the envy of the world, drawing students from every nation to our shores. But we also look to interact with cultural change in academe in the sense that H.L. Mencken spoke about culture as "neither education nor law-making" but "an atmosphere and a heritage" –that is, a solid past wrapped up in a contemporary atmosphere that fosters flexibility and innovation.

Today, the amazing transformations that new knowledge and constantly changing research and education tools continuously trigger in our contemporary world propel education and research squarely into each other's arms. We might use Daniel Boorstin's phrase, the "Fertile Verge," to describe the dynamism and creativity that result when education and research encounter each other.

When I think about the rationale for what we are trying to do, I like to use an analogy from the architect Eero Saarinen who designed Dulles Airport and the TWA terminal at Kennedy Airport. He was fond of quoting the advice of his father Eliel, also an architect of great distinction: "Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context—a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, and environment in a city plan." This type of outlook carries over to designing education for the future. As the world changes we are compelled to look at educating for the next expansive context, and that context today grows in scope and morphs faster than ever before.

We need a model of graduate education suitable to a new world in which change and complexity are the rule, a world that is globally linked, and growing in myriad dimensions, on scales ranging from the nanoparticle to worldwide virtual networks. This is the larger context within which we must redefine our vision of graduate education.

No matter the discipline, such an education must inculcate the skills that the 21 st century requires, and we need to engage in some radical rethinking about how to transform it. We need to take the best of what graduate education offers—and there is a great deal of that—and reshape it to foster adaptability, to impart skills to students who will experience a number of crisp iterations in their career paths over their lifetimes, and to bring graduate education more in synch with our world. This is the rationale not for reinventing the wheel but for educating students who will chart new territory.

Scientists and engineers of the future will process unprecedented amounts of information. They must adopt a sense of continuous learning to remain scientifically and technologically astute long after completing their formal degrees. They will especially need to know how to work across boundaries, for the nature of how research is done and how knowledge is created is becoming more complex, requiring more intimate connections and more robust collaborations.

Graduate education simply cannot be considered in isolation. As we weigh the balance between continuity and reform, let us consider how we can work towards a system of education that will be a seamless route of advancement for students from K-12 through post-doctoral levels. There is one particular divide that I would like to highlight--the divide between K-12 "teachers" on the one hand, and college and university "faculty" on the other. We need to move toward recognizing the entire spectrum of our educational professionals as "faculty." Early learning is as important to individual development, and to long-term social progress, as is a higher degree. We will only be able to design seamless learning paths for students when we recognize our common ground as faculty in a seamless educational community. This attitude is fostered both in NSF's new Math and Science Partnerships, and in its Faculty for the Future investment in the Workforce for the 21 st Century priority area, and I urge you to look at these in NSF's FY 2004 budget request.

[slide NSF priority areas]
(Use "back" to return to the text.)

In terms of my earlier remarks urging you to see your work as an important driver of NSF's strategic envelope, I turn now to some specific NSF constructs and programs that manifest this theme and help to support your work in graduate education. This slide lists what we call our "priority areas"--areas of exceptional promise to advance knowledge in science, engineering and society that we have singled out for special investment, over and above our ongoing investments in core disciplines. I cite the priority areas not so much for their own sake, however, but because they embody a way of thinking and an impetus for change. They are not just examples of cross-boundary research—they capture the frontiers of the moment, which then dissolve to give way to new frontiers. They are not just about encouraging collaboration, but are about elevating capabilities across the disciplines, enriching all of NSF and changing us as an institution.

Our priority area most recently in gestation is Human and Social Dynamics, an effort to jumpstart efforts already underway to transform understanding of our societies, our institutions and ourselves. Too often, exploration of the implications of new knowledge and technology comes as an afterthought.

The social sciences are critical to accelerating research progress and will surely continue to transform how we teach and learn. I am convinced that our success with Human and Social Dynamics will be complete only when no one needs to be told to take human beings and our institutions into consideration at the front end of our collaborative research and education endeavors.

Our earliest priority area, now five years old, is Information Technology Research (ITR), selected based on the rationale that information technology has transformed the very conduct of research—helping us to handle the complexity as well as quantity of data, enabling new collaborations around the globe and stunning new ways to visualize in many disciplines. In fact, grantees from the ITR priority area have returned to change NSF itself; after experiencing ITR boundary-crossing awards, PIs complained that our structure was too "stove-piped" to handle their creative new collaborations. Now, our Computer and Information Sciences Directorate is reorganizing itself to better serve the new community that the all-NSF ITR investment engendered.

[slide not available]
(Use "back" to return to the text.)

Another way we encourage more holistic thinking is with what many of you will know as NSF's "broader impact criterion." Here we ask all proposers to designate the broader impacts of the proposed activity—and the very first example under this criterion is this: "How well does the activity advance discovery and understanding while promoting teaching, training and learning?" Here is a compelling piece of the context and support for the changes you are all trying to make in graduate education.

There are other NSF focused programs that are symbiotic with your CIRTL work. I'll quickly cite four that dovetail nicely.

[slide IGERT]
(Use "back" to return to the text.)

The Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program is NSF's flagship initiative for graduate education. In six years we have funded approximately 100 institutions to reshape graduate training programs in order to create a fertile environment for cross-boundary, collaborative research and education.

IGERT is not about demanding that our students learn more and more basic knowledge, or delve deeper into a specialty. These are good things to do, but knowledge is changing so rapidly at the boundaries of disciplines that sticking to such paths alone may not fully enable a student's capability to meet the responsibilities of a contemporary career.

IGERT is about providing students with additional capabilities that will enable them to work at and across boundaries, to handle ambiguity, to integrate, to innovate, to communicate and to cooperate. These are components of a holistic education that not only suits the science and engineering of our times, but also thrives on diversity.

[slide CAREER]
(Use "back" to return to the text.)

Our CAREER program—the Faculty Early Career Development Awards--similarly isn't support for young investigators alone, so much as it is an investment in producing a set of holistic leaders of academe for the next generation, who unconsciously integrate research and education.

[slide not available]
(Use "back" to return to the text.)

Similarly, our ADVANCE program is much more than support for women's advancement in science and engineering, a worthy objective on its own; rather, it is an investment to institutionalize the presence of women in academe, along with NSF investment for underrepresented minorities and persons with disabilities. Moreover, it's not about the total number of engineers and scientists the nation may or may not need. More and more frequently we seem to be stymied and distracted from our diversity goals by questions about trends and statistics, like whether we really need more scientists and engineers. This is a blind alley.

ADVANCE IS about the need to include a larger proportion of women, underrepresented minorities and persons with disabilities in the science and engineering workforce, no matter what the total number. Whatever the total numbers of scientists and engineers turn out to be, we need a robust and varied mix, and that means expanding diversity.

This program is also about fully developing our domestic talent. In our knowledge-intensive society, we need to capitalize on all available intellectual talent, not only to advance but also to keep our nation humming. We need to understand that diversity is an asset and dissimilarity a valuable component of progress.

[slide GK-12]
(Use "back" to return to the text.)

"GK-12" is the moniker for another NSF experiment in integrating teaching and learning with a graduate education. However, this program is emphatically not about graduate students bringing the greater wisdom from on high to classrooms and force-feeding it to teachers. The graduate students themselves actually learn in the process that being an expert in a specialized field does not necessarily guarantee one's ability to communicate that knowledge.

A hallmark of GK-12 is that rivulets of learning flow in all directions, among the graduate student, the classroom teacher, the K-12 students, the graduate student's mentor, and everywhere in between.

One striking outcome already appearing from GK-12 is the strong partnerships and learning communities being established as a result of the interactions fostered by the program. Related to their GK-12 effort, for example, Duke University has received over $320,000 in outside support from Burroughs Welcome, the GE Fund and the Dean of Engineering to support an increase in the computer literacy of local teachers.

As you all know, CIRTL was born out of our program for Teaching and Learning Centers—as such, it aspires to reconceptualize teaching as a research process and to create supportive learning communities.

Contrast this to our Science of Learning Centers, which step up to the very frontiers to probe the fundamentals that underlie all the territory I have covered this morning.

[slide Science of Learning]
(Use "back" to return to the text.)

The question might well be asked, "Why do we need a science of learning?" Well, it is an attempt to credibly understand how people think and learn. It is an attempt to weave an integrated web of seemingly diverse scientific streams. The social sciences investigate the nature of perception and memory, and the role of motivation and emotion in learning. Biosciences cover the gamut from molecular to behavioral foundations of learning. Cognitive neuroscience brings us insight into the neural basis of learning in humans and other species. The physical and information sciences and engineering are now creating machines that learn. Educational sciences cover pedagogy from schools to colleges to lifelong learning.

Components of learning operate at every scale from genetic to digital to societal. To truly investigate learning, we must integrate insights from every level through multi-faceted, boundary-crossing collaborations. Such research builds the basis for the "classroom" of the future, even the foundation for learning beyond the classroom, and for educating our future workforce.

I'll summarize my message now quite simply: developing disciplinary and organizational skills in teaching, communication, multi-tasking and cross-boundary approaches are as integral to today's graduate student experience as are research skills. It is exciting that this is already happening in your institutions; as put by one of our NSF division directors, Art Ellis (incidentally, from the University of Wisconsin): "Ten years ago, at least at some institutions, you ran the risk of being ostracized if you tried to integrate teaching and learning into graduate education; we've come a long way, and now it's politically acceptable to experiment with it."

It is very clear that CIRTL and indeed, all of you gathered here, are a living embodiment of NSF's strategic intents, which I cited early on—investment in intellectual capital, integration of research and education, and promoting partnerships. In the midst of roiling change, you are making these things happen, and transforming graduate education to meet the future—a future in which success is defined in a new way, a future in which every graduate student makes a committed investment to developing teaching and learning skills in synch with a complex and multidisciplinary world.

Now, to practice what I preach, I am very much looking forward to learning—that's the best part of this visit—from our dialogue about the challenges and successes you have encountered in integrating teaching and learning into graduate education. I invite your comments and questions. Thank you.

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


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