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CAREER: Forging a Community of Inspiration

Photo of Joseph Bordogna

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

Remarks, NSF CAREER PI Mentoring & Networking Workshop
Stafford II, Room 555
Arlington, VA
January 22, 2004

Thank you for your warm welcome, and good morning to all of you. I have been looking forward to this event. On behalf of NSF, I want to give a special thank you to Alison and Theresa for all their hard work in organizing this gathering of stellar talent.

As CAREER awardees, you represent the unlimited promise of U.S. research and education in the 21st Century. I am particularly pleased to join you at a workshop dedicated to mentoring and networking -- the two principles that shaped and sustained my own career, mostly without my even knowing such principles were in play.

This gathering provides a powerful opportunity for you to catalyze the force of your collective strength and the promise of your collective leadership. I have titled my remarks "CAREER: Forging a Community of Inspiration," because you have already begun to build new networks of learning and innovation. I am convinced that forging a "community of inspiration" is essential to each individual here, as well as to the future vigor of our science and engineering enterprise.

There are now more than 3,000 awardees in the CAREER program since its inception in 1995. Your peer network has grown from a promising idea into a powerful community, with senior awardees offering their junior colleagues advice and counsel on tenure, career fulfillment, and the best ideas for integrating research and education. At a fundamental level, you all share the transformative influence exercised by the most inspired teachers.

A passion for education wrapped in an atmosphere of discovery is the driving force of our nation's path for leadership in today's eclectic knowledge-based society. A higher level of learning and creative thinking is becoming essential in all sectors of societal activity. And a richer and deeper integration of research and education has become a core principle for a robust career over a lifetime.

You are among the leaders of this important transition. The future prosperity of our nation will very much depend on the capacity, capability, and commitment that all of you possess and bring to the task. You enliven the context of our dialogue; you think and speak with the passion and excitement that percolates in early careers. You are foremost among a special group of scientists and engineers - in your various disciplines and institutions -- who possess a new lens for learning.

My goal today is to enlist your enthusiasm and experience in advancing the next generation of new knowledge and innovation. You represent the spirit and full range of what the Foundation is working to promote -- the core activities of mentoring and networking that are so essential to NSF's mission and to our nation's well-being.

Many people think about the CAREER program as being about an individual's career and professional development. Certainly, it is. But, thanks to your ongoing influence as teachers and researchers, it is also about accelerating and expanding opportunities for the development of all students and citizens.

CAREER is the premiere program at NSF for investing in those individuals who show the greatest potential for becoming the leading teacher-scholars and innovators of the 21st Century. The program looks to you as leaders who can promote the value and practice of mentoring - in your research, across the full spectrum of discovery, and in your teaching, which inspires new communities of learners.

Mentoring is a vital human endeavor that is as old as civilization. In fact, it is a fundamental source of development for all cultures. Mentoring engages teachers and learners in navigations of the future. The need for such connection stays constant in every stage and circumstance of life.

Students everywhere count themselves lucky if they can recall even just one extraordinary teacher or mentor who helped them realize their potential. At NSF, we want to ensure that these life-changing experiences are not only the happenstance of a few fortunate students. Through your efforts and leadership, we can make many more of these seminal connections.

NSF seeks to leverage talent and to support effective partnerships across the full scale of S&E disciplines, and the full spectrum of education levels. This work is exacting, exhilarating, and challenging. But I make no distinction between challenges and opportunities. As leaders at your institutions and within the national CAREER community, you are helping to create the kind of learning society that will sustain our nation's momentum of discovery and knowledge creation.

NSF was established to keep the nation's science and engineering enterprise always "at the frontier," and open to all. We work this mandate by making science and engineering investments focused on the furthest horizon - that moving target of evolving discovery. In our daily work we nurture emerging fields, enable the preparation of the next generation of science and engineering talent, and convey an understanding of the value and contributions of science to society.

Since its inception, NSF has responded to a fundamental question for both the agency and the nation: "How do we increase our scientific capital?" In his 1944-45 correspondence with Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, Vannevar Bush offered a concise answer:

"First, we must have plenty of men and women trained in science. Second, we must strengthen the centers of fundamental research, which are principally the colleges, universities, and research institutions. The most important ways in which the Government can promote industrial research are to increase the flow of new scientific knowledge through support of basic research, and to aid in the development of scientific talent."

NSF fosters a network of partnerships to help achieve the nation's goals, recognizing that our academic partners are the leaders who create, integrate, and transfer scientific knowledge. At its very best, our higher education system serves as a creative "hothouse" that supports continuous learning and contributes new knowledge across many disciplines. It is clear that all of you in the CAREER community play a key role in maximizing the nation's scientific capital. Vannevar Bush would be proud!

I call on you as leaders to expand the community of inspiration so that it flourishes at your own institutions. You are in a position to help guide on-going change in academe because you share many talents above and beyond your core areas of expertise. Let me highlight four areas of change underway in the academic community and suggest some of the roles you might play as agents of that change.

First, research and education in higher education is becoming more integrated. As master integrators, you can shepard this change by making your research the centerpiece of your teaching. This integration gives students a direct experience of the real-world research and discovery processes of science and engineering. It also works the other way: Student perspectives can inject out-of-the-box ideas and questions into research thinking.

Second, academe must do more to promote diversity to ensure excellence in the science and engineering workforce. As futurists, you see the connection between broadening participation in university science and engineering programs and creating a U.S. workforce capable of sustaining the nation's S&E momentum. As teachers and advocates within academe, you are already leading by example. Success in this area is essential to creating the community of inspiration.

Third, specialization within institutions of higher learning must be coupled with cross-boundary approaches. As holistic designers, you can lead new generations of learners across disciplinary boundaries. In your research, many of you are already creating exciting new partnerships across disciplines. It's past time to also infuse teaching with the benefits of interdisciplinary thinking.

And fourth, new kinds of knowledge must be thoroughly and productively infused into the larger society. As enterprise enablers, you can help facilitate dynamic partnerships between the knowledge creators of academe and U.S. business innovators. Your leadership in promoting and sustaining these alliances can expedite the introduction of new ideas and evolving technologies into the economy and the workplace.

Holistic change has been waiting in the wings for many years. In Mission of the University (1930), José Ortega y Gassett foresaw the need for synthesis and integration as a function of academe. He wrote:

"The need to create sound synthesis and systemization of knowledge…will call out a kind of scientific genius which hitherto has existed only as an aberration: the genius for integration. Of necessity this means specialization, as all creative effort does, but this time the [person] will be specializing in the construction of the whole."

Leadership of this kind requires consciousness, courage, and an intuitive interest in the future. A month before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, John Adams looked into our nation's future and wrote:

"We are in the very midst of a revolution the most complete, unexpected and remarkable of any in the history of nations."

228 years later, "we are in the very midst" of a series of new revolutions that will determine our next generations' future. Just like the cosmological universe, human knowledge and our capacities for creating future knowledge are expanding at an exponential, accelerating rate.

These revolutions, both simultaneous and complexly interrelated, provide our richest opportunity in history to strengthen the learning community of our nation across all scales of distance, time, scope and experience. That opportunity is within your talent and capability to achieve.

We trust your judgment and expertise. And we are grateful for your energy and enthusiasm for the challenges ahead.

I hope I've left us some time for questions and comments before your workshop begins.

Thank you.

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


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