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Dr. Bordogna's Remarks


Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Deputy Director
Chief Operating Officer
AAAS Colloquium on Science and Technology Policy

May 3, 2001

See also slide presentation.

If you're interested in reproducing any of the slides, please contact
The Office of Legislative and Public Affairs: (703) 292-8070.

Good afternoon to all of you. I'm delighted to be here to talk with you about the National Science Foundation. If you don't ask me the hard questions today, it's good to know that George Leventhal is here to help you out!

AAAS performs a terrific service for all of us in the science, engineering, and education community by holding this Colloquium every year. We have an opportunity to focus on policy. We get to consider ideas that too often get lost in the tumult of everyday concerns.

[NSF Title Slide]
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I'm going to make the most of this opportunity. I'll talk briefly about some broad issues in research and education. Then I'll answer your questions about NSF. I have about five minutes, so hang on to your seats!

[NSF budget request by Goals]
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This year we've broken down the National Science Foundation budget figures to reflect our new goals: People, Ideas, and Tools.

[NSF Strategic Goals]
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You'll notice that People are at the top of the list. That's intentional. NSF is as much about building a world-class workforce as it is about discovery. Although we continually break new ground with the research we support, we need people to carry forward the continual process of discovery and innovation.

At NSF, we are putting a renewed emphasis on preparing the science, engineering and technology workforce. Knowledge is becoming the most sought after commodity in the world. And knowledge workers - scientists, mathematicians, engineers, educators - are in short supply and high demand.

It's not news to any of us that the competition is stiffer and the stakes are higher than ever before in history. While degrees in engineering, the physical sciences, and math and computer sciences are either static or declining in the U.S., other nations are boosting degrees in all these fields. They're boosting investments in their science and engineering workers, and they're providing incentives to keep their best students at home.

What should we be doing about this? Here are a few suggestions.

[Slide: Role of Academe]
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First, we need to focus on integrating research and education. Linking support for research with training the next generation of scientists and engineers has been the intent of NSF from the start. I'm an MIT alum, and I've heard Chuck Vest describe this as "a beautiful and efficient concept." We get two important jobs accomplished for the price of one.

It's also a powerful way to ensure that knowledge makes it's way out of the academic research laboratory and into the larger world.

But integrating research and education has a larger meaning these days. We could increase the numbers of graduates in science and engineering, and still not have a workforce that meets the needs of the 21st century.

Let me explain.

Complexity and rapid change will shape the 21st century world. In the last ten years, the winds of change have literally swept across our institutions. They have reshaped the once familiar landscape of the economy and have forced us to clear new paths in business, in research, in science and engineering, and in education.

If rapid change is now ubiquitous, then we need to enable a workforce that is flexible and agile in adapting to change.

And if innovation is at the heart of progress, then we need to understand the skills that foster the capacity for risk taking, for imagination, and a tolerance for unfamiliar and uncertain territory. That in turn will mean that our institutions must evolve to engender these skills.

[Heinz Pagels quote]
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I like this quote from Heinz Pagels' book Perfect Symmetry because it captures the spirit of what continuous learning and innovation is about.

"The capacity to tolerate complexity and welcome contradiction, not the need for simplicity and certainty, is the attribute of an explorer."

We're all explorers here, and we all know that these skills reside throughout society, not just in academe. They are equally important in K-12 education.

[Slide: Seeing What's Visible: 21st Century Academe]
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Let me conclude my remarks by very briefly noting another trend, closely linked to workforce issues.

Scientists and engineers are increasingly exploring the rich territory at the borders among disciplines. This multidisciplinary research calls for increased collaboration, and for more integration of knowledge. New clusters will emerge at the moving edge of discovery, and these will inevitably transform the "core" disciplines. We need to accommodate these transformations in the design of our education and research activities.

These are the bigger picture issues that keep us energized, and I'm pleased AAAS gives us a forum to consider them. Well, I'll end there. It's your turn now, and I welcome your questions and comments.



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