Skip To Content Skip To Left Navigation
NSF Logo Search GraphicGuide To Programs GraphicImage Library GraphicSite Map GraphicHelp GraphicPrivacy Policy Graphic
OLPA Header Graphic

Dr. Bordogna's Remarks


"From Pipelines to Pathways"

Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Deputy Director
Chief Operating Officer
Assessing the Impact: ATE National Principal Investigators Conference

October 24, 2002

Good evening to everyone. I'm delighted with this splendid opportunity to speak with you and to learn about your ventures. I'd like to thank George Boggs and his colleagues at the American Association of Community Colleges for arranging this conference that brings all of us together to exchange ideas.

I'll begin by welcoming you on behalf of the National Science Foundation. NSF is all about people, and that includes all of you who are part of the Advanced Technology Education program. We are all partners in an enterprise that has far-reaching consequences for the prosperity, security and well being of our nation: preparing a 21st century workforce. We are on a journey whose roadbeds enable society's heavy traffic to flow with vigor and success.

This audience knows that career opportunities for technically skilled workers are increasing in every sector of the economy, from agriculture to marine exploration, from multimedia design to designer materials, from biotechnology to ecosystem management - and on and on. The Advanced Technology Education program spans all of these areas and many more.

Many - and I count myself as one - believe that the greatest share of our technical workforce in the decades ahead will be educated in community colleges.

I want to talk about the story behind this belief and offer some suggestions about what it means for our task.

Technology is the very bones of our economy and society. It enables us to compete in the global marketplace, raises our prospects for more productive and satisfying lives, and strengthens our national security.

Technological innovation moves forward hand-in-glove with the fresh science and engineering knowledge that drives it. Discovery and innovation are the twin pillars of 21st century progress.

They bring with them an era of breathtaking transformation. New technologies - and whole industries - emerge in what seems like the blink of an eye.

This rapid pace and the increasing complexity of technological change have irreversibly altered how we prepare ourselves to understand, control, and exploit our new knowledge.

Of course, the preparation I refer to is simply "education", and the process involved is "learning." This brings people onto center stage. In our multiple roles as educators, workers, researchers and innovators, we are the ultimate drivers of change.

We are not just a bewildered cast of characters, upon whom transformation is perpetrated, but thoughtful, intelligent, and collaborating actors designing and molding change to our own ends.

Taking responsibility for our own fate updates our story from a Greek tragedy to a modern morality play. We no longer view ourselves as raw material flooding through a one-dimensional educational pipeline, but, rather, as agents of change walking tall along a variety of linked pathways. I've titled my remarks "Pipelines to Pathways" to reflect this vital difference.

It brings our central issue into the spotlight. How can we design educational paths and learning environments that will suit our 21st century needs?

Our capability to deliver the goods will depend on at least two developments: our ability to discover fresh knowledge about how we learn, and our boldness to bring that understanding into the classroom, the laboratory, and the workplace. This is an absolutely vital responsibility of community colleges - we will not deliver the goods without you.

As we pursue those goals, there are some clear themes already evident.

First, students entering the workplace today need to know more basic science and mathematics than ever before.

Second, students entering the workplace need skills that have never before been part of a college curriculum. They will have to be effective collaborators, innovators, risk takers, and communicators, working across shifting boundaries, and embracing diversity.

Third, they will need to learn continuously throughout their lifetimes, updating their skills - and sometimes preparing for entirely new careers. Not many will take a straight path from pre-school to president.

Fourth, they will need to understand the human and social dimensions of technology; for example, how technology can be shaped to suit our needs, as well as the parameters of decision-making.

And fifth, they will need facility in using contemporary tools of learning and workplace agility, and be prepared to embrace tools yet to be.

Community Colleges are out front in efforts to fill these needs. NSF's vision is to enable the nation's future through discovery, learning and innovation, and Community Colleges are helping us realize this vision.

In this context, researchers, educators and innovators drive change.

But of course, we are all learners as well. What we require of our students, we need to practice ourselves. We must be as knowledgeable, as easy with risk, as proficient in innovation, as comfortable with inclusiveness, and as alert to the human and social aspects of our work as we ask our students and workers to be. Discovery, learning, and innovation are all reflexive and transitive relationships.

Now I want to dig more deeply into the contrast between pipelines and pathways. In the science and engineering community, we frequently speak metaphorically of "the pipeline" that supplies a steady stream of scientists and engineers to the workforce by moving raw talent through ever-higher levels of educational attainment.

Others have used less flattering metaphors. Peter Senge, an MIT management guru who has helped to pioneer the concept of a "learning organization" has another way of describing "the pipeline". He says, "Schools may be the starkest example in modern society of an entire institution modeled after the assembly line."

That brings to mind the image of Charlie Chaplin in the film "Modern Times." Although he begins work in earnest, he is soon hopelessly outpaced and ultimately defeated by a conveyor belt that seems absolutely malevolent!

Pipeline thinking has dominated science and engineering workforce preparation and education for decades. It's not easy to break the mold and forge new paradigms. Someone once wisely said, "A habit is something you can do without thinking - which is why most of us have so many of them."

But here, as in every other aspect of our society, we need to question our habits so that innovation can flourish - as it must. We need to devise fundamentally new arrangements that convert "the pipeline" into pathways that are multiple, flexible and adaptable.

I'm sure you're familiar with a common phenomenon on campuses and in urban parks. No matter where paths are laid, people inevitably cut new ones. The patterns of these threadbare tracks appear to be exactly where paths should have been in the first place.

Cutting these fresh patterns is our challenge in preparing the 21st century workforce.

This is a tall order, but we can do it. It means keeping our eyes open to new developments, and experimenting. We may believe that this is someone else's job. But we are all in this together - educators, researchers, and administrators, whether from the private sector, academe, or government. We all want to be in the vanguard - to ride the crest of the wave, and not be bowled over by its force.

Describing the process of discovery, Bertrand Russell referred to the moment when our vision shifts and we first see the world from an entirely new perspective as the "Ah ha! " experience. We need more "ah ha!" moments to bring our 21st century educational enterprise into harmony with our 21st century science and technology. That means a transformation as revolutionary - and as exhilarating - as the technological revolution of the past several decades.

Innovation is risky business. Ask anyone in the private sector! But it's no less necessary because there are potential pitfalls along the way. Think of it as "adventurous" rather than "perilous." I couldn't express it any better than the humorist Will Rodgers did, when he said, "Sometimes we have to go out on a limb, because that's where the fruit is."

I'll leave you with that thought. You are the vanguard of that revolution. It won't happen without you.



National Science Foundation
Office of Legislative and Public Affairs
4201 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, Virginia 22230, USA
Tel: 703-292-8070
FIRS: 800-877-8339 | TDD: 703-292-5090

NSF Logo Graphic