Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Chief Operating Officer
NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
Graduate Fellowships Program Review Panelists
February 8, 2001
I'm in that dangerous position of being the only thing
standing between you and dinner, so I intend to be
very brief. I do want to share one short story that
combines levity and learning.
A man is flying in a hot air balloon and realizes he
is lost. He lowers his altitude, spots a woman down
below, and asks, "Excuse me, can you help me? I promised
to return this balloon to its owner, but I don't know
where I am."
The woman below says: "You are in a hot air balloon,
hovering approximately 350 feet above mean sea level
and 30 feet above this field. You are between 40 and
42 degrees north latitude, and between 72 and 74 degrees
"You must be an engineer," says the balloonist.
"I am," replies the woman. "How did you know?"
"Well," says the balloonist, "everything you told me
is technically correct, but I have no idea what to
make of your information, and the fact is I am still
The woman below says: "You must be a manager."
"I am," replies the balloonist, "but how did you know?"
"Well," says the engineer, "you don't know where you
are, or where you are going. You have made a promise
which you have no idea how to keep, and you expect
me to solve your problem. The fact is you are in the
exact same position you were in before we met, but
now it is somehow my fault."
The story has many interpretations and I can tell you
from being both an engineer and a manager, they are
all right and all wrong.
Let me just mention one other item coming out of Washington
today that is generating anything but hot air.
It is a recent report - just barely a week old in fact.
It addresses a somewhat unwieldy topic: National Security
in the 21st Century. It's the work of a
commission led by former Senators Warren Rudman and
I don't normally talk about National Security reports
at settings like this, but this one is different,
and it's different for one reason. It makes five recommendations
for creating what it calls a new strategic environment
for the US in the next 25 years. The second recommendation
is what's important to all of us. It reads:
"Recapitalizing America's strength in science and education."
The report uses clear and lively language to make its
points. Here's a quote you may have seen in the newspapers:
"Second only to a weapon of mass destruction detonating
in an American City, we can think of nothing more
dangerous than a failure to manage properly science,
technology, and education for the common good over
the next quarter century."
While the opening allusion may be disturbing, the words
are nonetheless inspiring to all of us who have devoted
our careers to advancing science and engineering for
the common good. More and more people are finally
realizing that our work belongs at the top of the
This is truly an amazing time in our nation's history.
We're crafting devices at the nano-scale - three orders
of magnitude smaller than anything ever before fashioned
by human hands. This will give us probes, sensors,
structures, robots - all on the same scale as human
We're taking similar leaps forward in computing power
- leap-frogging several orders of magnitude into the
terascale - enabling us to manage information that
comes by the trillion.
We've got teraflop processors connected by terabit
networks all linked to terabyte storage devices -
and all are solidly grounded on terra firma.
With this capability comes responsibility - and that's
where you come in. To make the most of these new powers,
we need a science and engineering workforce that is
creative, insightful, circumspect in its thinking,
and we need a workforce that reflects the full richness
and diversity of our entire society.
We know this is no easy task, and we've charged you
with helping us identify the young people who possess
these attributes. This calls upon your own powers
of creativity and insight.
We often have to make a special point of reminding
reviewers that NSF has two merit review criteria.
I know you don't need any reminding. We know you know
that intellectual merit and broader impacts must be
viewed as two sides of the same coin.
I know dinner is not getting any hotter. Thank you
again for allowing me to enjoy a few minutes of your
time - and a very special thanks to Oak Ridge and
all of you for your work this week.
I thank you again on behalf of all of NSF - and on
behalf of the entire nation.