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Photo of Joseph Bordogna

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

Keynote Address: "ADVANCE: The Future of Academe"
Virginia Tech ADVANCE Workshop, "AdvanceVT Inaugural Workshop"

Blacksburg, VA
January 12, 2004

Good afternoon. I am happy to have this opportunity to discuss with you a matter important to both Virginia Tech's continued growth and success, as well as to the future prosperity of our Nation as a whole.

Each and every one of us here has a common goal – we all hope to advance the success of U.S. science and engineering. In a world made increasingly complex by the intertwinings of greater knowledge, new technologies, increasing expectations, and a more diverse population, we are surely faced with a formidable challenge. Tackling the complexity of such wide-ranging issues requires a multi-faceted approach – one from many perspectives and on many fronts.

We all recognize that greater diversity in the science and engineering community is vital to our nation's success and security. We understand how including the full gamut of intellectual perspectives and talent gives us an international edge in discovery and innovation. And we know that embracing diversity is the right thing to do.

Though not robust, we can celebrate progress in diversity we have made on many fronts. Yes, there is more diversity in the science and engineering workforce compared to thirty years ago, and there are some people who know how to make it so. Yet the fact remains that years of dialog and effort have not produced the surge in forward momentum that is necessary – and increasingly urgent – to reach our objectives.

This is surely one of the significant "gaps" between science and society. If we are going to "bridge" this gap, we need to be absolutely clear about our common aims, and then move decisively beyond agreement to collaborative action.

We should not make the mistake in qualifying this challenge as a result of the increasing complexity of our times. Nor is it an issue that has just recently come to our attention. Broadening participation in science and engineering has been our challenge for many decades. It even had specific mention in Vannevar Bush's 1945 Science—the Endless Frontier report to FDR. In Bush's words, "We must have plenty of men and women trained in science, for upon them depends both the creation of new knowledge and its application to practical purposes. …The frontier of science ... is in keeping with the American tradition – one which has made the United States great ... new frontiers shall be made accessible for development by all American citizens."

The National Science Foundation was founded more than fifty years ago to ensure the "frontiers of science" were, in fact, accessible to everyone in the Nation. To this day the NSF continues to keep its science and engineering investments focused on the furthest horizon, to recognize and nurture emerging fields, to prepare the next generation of science and engineering talent, and to convey an understanding of the value and contributions of science to society.

Within this context, ADVANCE is an important expression of NSF's commitment to build a science and engineering workforce that is both inclusive and diverse. This is at the very core of our mission, which is as much about preparing a world-class workforce as it is about discovery. Talent runs deep in America, in broad streams of intellect, perspective, and culture. We possess tantalizing potential, but we have not yet learned to take full advantage of our rich human resources and intellectual capital.

We can take credit for our hard work and accomplishments, because we are slowly making progress. But after all this time, we still aren't where we should be. We must do more and we must do it now.

Academic institutions stand at the fulcrum of scientific, technological and societal change. The scientists and engineers they educate and train are expected to foster progress toward diverse and daunting goals. They must create new knowledge, artifacts and systems; stimulate economic development, create wealth and jobs; sharpen the nation's competitive edge; raise our prospects for more productive and satisfying lives; care for the environment; and strengthen our national security.

All of us here today are certainly committed to this important responsibility. And we are willing and capable of handling this task. A critical element to ensure success is broadening participation, and within this element a focus on women commands our attention at this workshop. NSF's ADVANCE investment is intended to enable community effort toward this end.

A principle of ADVANCE is that it will not succeed without the collaborative efforts and dedication of all members of an institution, from students, support staff, and faculty to provost and president. With each passing year we recognize the positive correlation between strong institutional and program leadership and overall success.

Alice Hogan spoke earlier about ADVANCE from NSF's perspective. I want to expand on some of her comments.

I firmly believe ADVANCE can help us meet the challenge of broadening participation in the science and engineering workforce.

How we get the job done is by no means straightforward. Our world – like the science and engineering of our times – is increasingly complex and dynamic. The challenge of diversity is no exception. Accelerating our efforts to meet this challenge will require, for starters, a refined and sophisticated posing of the questions we should be asking.

Keeping our antenna tuned to the need for action, I will offer you some contrasting viewpoints that may help us clarify our strategy and vision. These contrasts suggest a subtle shift in focus – a reframing of issues that may provide a more useful context for effective action.

In other words, I want to contrast what broadening participation in the science and engineering workforce is NOT about – as a way of suggesting what it IS about.

First, it is NOT about the total number of engineers or 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. Do we really need more scientists and engineers? Is the demand for them really greater than the supply? Are PhD's going to go begging for career opportunities in academe, in government and in industry? These questions divert our attention from the primary goal.

It IS about the need to include a larger proportion of women, underrepresented minorities and persons with disabilities in the scientific workforce, and particularly in academe. Whatever the total numbers turn out to be, we need a robust and varied mix, and that means expanding diversity.

Science, engineering and technology are creating accelerating change in our rate of discovery. We are quickly expanding our understanding of nanotechnology, biodiversity, the science of learning, and many other fields. The virtually untapped resource of our diversity will infuse innovative perspective for these new frontiers and require active involvement of us all.

Second, broadening participation is NOT about the number of foreign-born students, scientists or engineers who study or work in the U.S. They have always provided a source of strength for our own society and economy, and an avenue for lifting human potential globally. They are as welcome now as those who came before them.

Broadening participation IS about fully developing our domestic talent. In our knowledge-intensive society, we need to capitalize on all available intellectual talent. Although we're doing better than we did thirty years ago, we have not yet seriously tapped our nation's competitive "ace-in-the-hole" – domestic women, underrepresented minorities, and persons with disabilities. Now we are playing catch up in a very competitive world. We need to understand that diversity is an asset, and dissimilarity a valuable component of progress. If we do not face this now, we will wake up one day like the proverbial Rip Van Winkle, to a world that has passed us by.

Third, it is NOT about keeping businesses from going abroad. Science and engineering have always been international. In today's increasingly networked world we are unlikely to staunch the flow of mobile and global enterprises, into and out of our borders, even if we wanted to.

It IS about educating scientists and engineers with a competitive edge. To be on the frontier of discovery and in the vanguard of innovation requires new capabilities and skills that are qualitatively different from production-line education that turns students into commodities bought on the global marketplace at the cheapest price. We want to create an environment that attracts an eclectic and diverse array of students to pursue studies in science and engineering, and encourages them to stay the course. We need a variety of learning paths that support creative, world-class scientists and engineers.

Fourth, it is NOT about demanding that our students learn more and more basic knowledge, or delve deeper into a specialty. This is a good thing to do, but knowledge is changing so rapidly that sticking to this path alone could be a recipe for disaster.

It IS about providing students with additional capabilities that will enable them to work 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. The differences in race, ethnicity, and gender that abound in our society are a positive force to engender this creativity and dynamism. The divisions will only hold us back and sap our energy until we erase them.

Fifth, achieving our common goals is NOT about working from the bottom up or from the top down. We are frequently asked, "What is the National Science Foundation doing to solve these problems?" NSF is certainly a willing and able player, as it should be. We are very seriously committed to broadening participation. Our statutory mandate explicitly includes this responsibility. That means taking action, not just talking – we identify and support innovative programs to broaden participation. But we are by no means capable of addressing all the issues single-handedly.

Broadening participation IS about working together. We will realize our goals sooner if we all work together in harmony.

It is this varied, richly textured and shaded fabric of diversity – not any single thread – that provides durability and strength to our science and engineering enterprise – and thus to our nation. Diversity – once given scope and opportunity – has the potential to shape, to transform, and to drive our future for the better.

We need to spend less of our intellectual capital worrying about supply and demand, and invest more in getting on with the task of transforming the nation’s diversity into our strongest asset. The price here, the treasure trove of diversity, is clearly worth the effort.

We can't expect a workforce with a flair for innovation, and agility in the rapid pace of change, to arise from a homogenous talent pool. Broadening participation is the smart thing to do.

ADVANCE is an important stepping-stone in our goal to broaden participation in the S&E workforce. While ADVANCE's goals are specific – to increase the representation and advancement of women in academic science and engineering careers – it is also at the center of a ripple effect that we expect to create even greater aspirations.

For example, ADVANCE acts as an initiating spark to create role models, mentors and leaders for future generations of scientists and engineers. Mentors and leaders are able to not only inspire, but they can support established scientists and engineers throughout their careers. They are also particularly important to institutionalizing the presence of women in academe.

ADVANCE is about action, taking steps to make a difference. We're investing in the people who know how to effect change. We're enabling those who can actually pull it off.

ADVANCE serves as an institutionalization and acceleration of an on-going process. We must ensure an eclectic mix in academe that reflects the rate at which society is changing. ADVANCE catalyzes the melding of many individuals, each contributing her or his unique background and perspectives to the mix.

ADVANCE is NOT about creating advantages. It creates formal structures for what often happens informally, allowing equal opportunities for every individual. It's no longer about opportunity arising only from the luck of the draw or fortuitous acquaintances. In these situations, transparency in the formula for promotion can only benefit all individuals involved.

The essence of ADVANCE is collaboration, diversity, dedication, and open mindedness. Scientists and engineers must come together with social scientists and statisticians to formulate better understanding of and action plans for our current situation. Businesses and industry can help academe understand its approach to the bottom line, organizational behavior, sustaining creativity, and attracting customers. Virginia Tech can systematically attack a societal issue and devise new resolutions to enduring discrepancies. It's not about starting from scratch – it's about taking what we have learned and getting the job done.

I may sound impatient, and I am, but when we understand that diversity is the lifeblood of progress and prosperity, it becomes the nation's responsibility – and that includes all of us. Every sector and every citizen shares some responsibility. We will get there faster if we work together. It is our job now to create an inclusive team.

As I leave you to your important work at today's workshop, I would like to remind you that we do not expect this to be an easy process. But we do expect it to be pursued with some alacrity based on immeasurable dedication. Done well, it will be an exciting and creative journey for us all. The rewards will be great. The U.S. will continue to be at the cutting edge of science and engineering research and education, and enjoy a competitive position among increasingly proficient science and engineering nations around the globe.

In the words of the insightful William Shakespeare, "To climb steep hills requires slow pace at first." Well the slow pace now ends: together, we can accelerate up that hill and fulfill our potential.

Thank you.

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


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