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Dr. Bordogna's Remarks


Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Acting Deputy Director
National Technological University
Fort Collins, Colorado

August 7, 1997

(As delivered)

President Baldwin, members of the faculty, graduates -- here and on video monitors -- and their families and invited guests, I am pleased and privileged to participate in NTU's commencement exercises today.

I am always delighted to speak with and to engineers. I am always enthusiastic about addressing students, whether they are eighteen or eighty years old. But I am far beyond enthusiasm to be able to address a group of what I would call "new age engineering graduates."

The concept of the National Technological University was an innovation, a risk, a leap of imagination in graduate engineering education when it was initiated over a decade ago. I am reminded of the comment about "risk" made by playwright Neil Simon. He said, "If no one ever took risks, Michelangelo would have painted the Sistine floor."

Today I want to talk briefly about "taking risks" and about the role of engineers as "agents of change."

Taking risks, doing things differently, and breaking the traditional patterns all bring us to a new place -- a place most often undefined and unconstrained by the norm. We are living in such a place today. We are living in the infancy of what scholars and song writers all term the "Information Age," despite the fact that there are no adequate definitions of what an information age means. As most of you know better than I do, information systems and learning tools are powerful but still somewhat enigmatic mechanisms. We know what they can do today but we cannot actually imagine what they will enable us to do tomorrow.

But despite the lack of a better term, you have all been engaged in an "information age" graduate education. We do know that it has been more comprehensive than attending a single engineering institution. It has been more flexible and convenient. And you have had the best in human resources from multiple academic sources.

As President Baldwin related in his annual report of 1995-96, we've witnessed the explosion of the Internet, the World Wide Web, and Intranets, and NTU was positioned to take optimum advantage of all these information rich opportunities.

At the National Science Foundation, we are trying to help traditional educational institutions expand and change the concept of engineering education and of the role of the engineer in society.

But let us think for a moment about change in the larger historical context. Eight years ago, at an AT&T Corporate Strategy and Development Conference, a speaker by the name of William Van Dusen Wishard made a very insightful comment about change in the scope of human history.

He said, "Throughout most of history, in most parts of the world, life was relatively static, and continuity rather than change was the norm. The idea of purposeful change -- that people shape their own destiny -- only really emerged in Europe in the seventeenth century. Now change is the global norm. Simultaneous technological change in every part of the world [is] a completely new fact of history. And so is the corollary -- that what happens on one part of the globe has instant repercussions on the other side. This fact alone makes our period unique in the 6000-year recorded history of the human race."

Throughout history, engineers have been "agents of change." We have designed, made and built things that have consistently changed people's lives and their mode of living. We have not necessarily thought of ourselves as "civilization movers" but rather as curious and sometimes quirky "doers." We solve problems, big and small,

We also do not necessarily focus on the big picture. That is perhaps why we haven't always seen ourselves as "agents of change." In this unique period of human history, where technological change occurs at a breathless pace with instant global repercussions, engineers need to step back and consider the larger implications of what they have routinely seen as, pardon the pun, "small change."

We must contemplate our work in the larger context because what we do often changes the "big picture" dramatically over time. We need to assimilate the concept that for the first time in human history the environment must be protected from humankind instead of the 6000 year pattern of humans needing protection from nature. Although we are still vulnerable in the wake of tornadoes and earthquakes, we have, nonetheless, reached the historical juncture where the planet is vulnerable to our excesses and our power to inflict irreversible damage.

Engineers will be one of the most significant forces in designing continued economic development for humankind in a manner that will sustain the long-term viability of our planet habitat. The noted microbiologist, Jonas Salk, said "Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors." Engineers have a major role and responsibility in making that a reality. You will be the designers for all facets of "sustainable development," and global survival. And you will be responsible for passing that new perspective and knowledge on to future generations of engineers.

All of you are actively engaged in professional careers that require both your first-rate technical knowledge as well as various communicating and team-work skills. These other skills, which allow you to be an engineer in different contexts and with people other than engineers, are increasingly important in today's changing and highly competitive workplace.

The perspective to be able to think of yourselves as major "agents of civilization change" may not be easy to encompass. Thinking holistically of the larger context of your work has not been part of the traditional engineering imperative.

But you are, by your very unique NTU education, a new kind of engineer. You have the maturity and wisdom of experience in your profession and you have the added advantage of comprehensive new knowledge -- perhaps the best of both worlds.

I ask all of you at this graduation milestone in your lives to consider the formidable impact and influence of your work in universal terms. I ask you to take upon yourselves the future responsibility of helping other engineers to see their work similarly and to help change engineering education in the direction of this larger perspective.

I wish each of you great success as you advance in your careers. An NTU degree is a significant step toward that goal for yourselves and for society. Good luck and continued good journeys.



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