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Dr. Bordogna's Remarks


Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Deputy Director
Chief Operating Officer
Graduate Fellowships Program Review Panelists
Doubletree Hotel

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 west longitude."

"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 lost."

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 Gary Hart.

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 national agenda.

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 cells.

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.



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