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Photo of Joseph Bordogna

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

Awards for the Integration of Research and Education Education in the 21st Century
January 2004

In 1997 and 1998 the 20 institutions featured in Reinvigorating the Undergraduate Experience through Research and Inquiry-Based Learning received special awards from the National Science Foundation for their success in integrating research and undergraduate education. Their leadership and imagination have provided us with new insights and strategies into the process of infusing education with the excitement of research and discovery.

Their contributions are part of a broad effort to enhance educational effectiveness, keeping pace with the acceleration of discovery and innovation in science, engineering, and technology. In a rapidly changing world, integrating research and education is increasingly important to the nation's future economic and social prospects.

The integrative efforts of these institutions have assumed a prominent place in NSF's strategic vision and become a touchstone for the Foundation's investments. We are partners in the important work of creating opportunity and capitalizing on new knowledge. Like education itself, that work is both an investment and a never-ending adventure.

The National Science Foundation supports fundamental research in science, mathematics, and engineering across all fields, and math and science education at all levels. The funding actions NSF takes in pursuit of its broad agenda respond to a founding 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 enables a diverse 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 now apparent that the integration of research and education is an essential tool for maximizing scientific capital.

Success can take many forms, and the programs explored in this volume offer useful models for integrating undergraduate research and education -- from community research programs and peer mentoring, to interdisciplinary thinking and science research for non-science majors. The authors of these and many other strategies share a commitment to discovery, curiosity, and inquiry, and a deep personal investment in educational excellence.

NSF's statutory mandate is to promote progress in science and engineering for the public good. The Foundation's vision advances the nation's progress through discovery, learning, and innovation. Our modus operandi is to support those activities that create, integrate, and transfer science, engineering, and technological knowledge. We emphasize fundamental investment on the frontiers of science and engineering, where risks and rewards are high. We anticipate that continuous improvements in educational effectiveness will be necessary to sustain the nation's robust science and engineering enterprise.

In our mission to strengthen scientific capital, we focus on three strategic goals: people, ideas, and tools. We invest in people to create a diverse, competitive, and globally-engaged U.S. workforce of scientists, engineers, technologists, and well-prepared citizens. We fund the most promising ideas to advance discovery in science and engineering, and in learning and innovation to best serve society. We invest in tools -- broadly accessible, state-of-the-art science and engineering facilities and other infrastructure -- to promote and facilitate that discovery, learning, and innovation.

The Foundation's infrastructure investments have guided transformative technical advances and opened new frontiers, such as terrascale computing and nanoscale capabilities. As the lead agency in the National Nanotechnology Initiative, NSF is expanding fundamental research in this revolutionary field. The explorations will focus on new materials and on biological systems at the nanoscale to exploit new possibilities in materials and manufacturing, medicine, environment and energy, and national security. The Foundation is also expanding its cyberinfrastructure investments to bring next-generation computer and networking capabilities to researchers and educators nationwide.

As these vistas come into focus, they raise new questions about the direction of our society. How can we sustain our accelerating rate of discovery? How can we prepare new generations to capitalize on emerging opportunities? In meeting its people goal, NSF is expanding Vannevar Bush's objective of having "plenty of men and women trained in science" by making a priority investment in the Workforce for the 21st Century.

The nation's economic viability, capacity for security, and overall quality of life depend on a general workforce that is scientifically and technologically literate and a science and engineering professional workforce that is world class at all levels. Our educational system has been and continues to be effective at the collegiate level and attracts students from around the world. At the same time, many K-12 graduates are ill-prepared to respond to the demands of today's world; fewer U.S. citizens choose to pursue science and engineering careers; and fewer than half of those who do choose these career paths graduate, putting the nation's economy and security at peril.

This softening of the nation's capacity to perform is exacerbated by slow progress in attracting and advancing underrepresented minorities, women, and persons with disabilities to careers in science and engineering. We must address these issues with both passion and strategic investment. It is unrealistic to imagine that the United States can persist in sustaining its freedom without long-term dedication to resolving this workforce conundrum. In the words of James Madison, "What spectacle can be more edifying or more seasonable than that of liberty and learning, each leaning on the other for their mutual and surest support?"

NSF has designed its Workforce for the 21st Century investment to capitalize on the Foundation's experience with a variety of programmatic investments over the years. Our goals are to replicate the most effective programs, to apply the latest research findings bearing on science, engineering, mathematics, and technology learning, and to broaden participation. The goal is to create a highly synergistic and interconnected enterprise with the active involvement of researchers and educators at all levels and from every science and engineering discipline.

It is important to understand why more U.S. students are not choosing to pursue science and engineering programs. We must ensure that our youngsters have the skills needed to thrive in a competitive global economy driven by innovation and rapid technological change.

One fundamental strategy is to better prepare K-12 teachers and higher education faculty to inspire and challenge their students. This instructional workforce must have effective materials, training, and methods to promote and assess learners. In addition, we need to strengthen the connections among elementary, middle, and high school and the transition to postsecondary education for a seamless K-12 experience for all students.

Demands are increasing for a holistic breed of scientists and engineers -- graduates with the skill to work across intellectual, social, and cultural boundaries. This integrative capability is key to successful performance in an increasingly diverse and complex international work environment. Our science and engineering education must go beyond the best to also address the new global realities.

That's how it is and how it should be. Increasing expectations are a healthy sign that our core values have not changed. Parents, employers, and educators have common interests - to equip our youngsters with the skills they need to thrive and to provide our society with the wherewithal to understand and solve its problems and capitalize on its opportunities. Education plays a vital role in realizing our common purpose, now more integrated within a global context.

We can already see some of what is ahead for academe in the not too distant future. When we contrast the emerging educational archetype with its traditional counterpart, we find distinct transitions occurring. The traditional campus-centric model of the university is becoming a global enterprise with many new partnerships. New industry-university alliances have taken root in the fertile soil at the frontier of knowledge. The building-block courses of department-based education are changing into a holistic, topic-based curriculum. A different kind of university is evolving, a creative center that provides boundary-crossing experiences for all of its students and consistently integrates emerging research and education.

This brings us to the complex frontier of cognition. Cognition encompasses a panoply of individual human competencies -- acquiring knowledge, solving problems, making decisions, communicating, and creating, among others. A rich knowledge base about how we learn is being developed jointly by linguists, psychologists, philosophers, computer scientists, engineers, mathematicians, neuroscientists, and others.

The scope of this capability takes us to new territories. Cognition illuminates the full gamut of human and social dynamics that characterize our institutions at all levels of complexity. We already speak of "learning organizations" in this context. We are now beginning to anticipate how the science of learning may revise our design of science and engineering education -- by enhancing our understanding of individual learning styles, how the brain stores and accesses information, and how to best use new information technology to promote learning.

Consequently, NSF recently announced a competition to create Science of Learning Centers. Knowledge gleaned from these centers will open up frontiers of complexity and create a new space of opportunity -- a place for educators, scientists, and engineers to make a marriage of seemingly disparate ideas. This new understanding will allow us to explore interdependencies on vastly broader scales and across traditional boundaries. It will provide a window on the heart of change in all its myriad forms.

Closely linked to our evolving complexity is holism. If complexity enables us to understand broader connections, holism teaches us that combinations of things have a power and capability greater than the sum of their separate parts. It spurs the search for new synergies and enables us to investigate and anticipate structures and systems.

The hallmark of these new capabilities is their potential to transform. They help to connect, recompose, and expand core science and engineering disciplines. Each is nothing short of revolutionary, but in combination they are truly breathtaking in scope. They enable us to find solutions in unlikely places. One of the super chargers of our current age of cross-boundary discovery is the ability it gives us to shift from one context to another with agility, borrowing concepts and models along the way.

Through the science of learning we will gain a new cognitive capability to help us integrate the human and social dimension with our engineering and science knowledge base. The connections among complexity, holism, cognition, and teamwork will expand individuals' intellectual reach and capacity to make novel contributions to the nation's scientific capital. As we integrate these new capabilities into science and engineering education, they will transform the very nature of learning environments, raising education to a higher level of excellence.

As we set out to revolutionize science and engineering education, there will be some disconcerting moments when our vision of the end is not crystal clear, but the need to move forward is compelling. At such times, we may need to encourage ourselves to embrace ambiguity.

Accepting ambiguity gives us tremendous power and flexibility. We can move ahead without knowing precisely where we are going, while making subtle course corrections along the way. And we can take advantage of entirely new developments and points-of-view to enrich and broaden our vision.

The "embracing" part of embracing ambiguity implies that we can learn to recognize those new contexts in which greater definition may close doors prematurely on future options. There are times when working on parallel tracks provides the space necessary for innovation until it is ripe for integration.

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."

The models of success created by the RAIRE and AIRE awardees are part of the leading edge of transformative change in 21st century academe. The unfinished work ahead of us -- to fully integrate research and education in every discipline, for all learners, at every level -- will be one of our greatest gifts to the future.

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


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