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Dr. Colwell's Remarks


Dr. Rita R. Colwell
National Science Foundation
Welcoming Remarks to
Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT)
Principal Investigators' Meeting

February 3, 2003

Good morning and welcome to the National Science Foundation. It is always an honor to greet awardees. All of you, and the awardees in NSF's other programs, are the life's blood of the Foundation. Your dedication and creativity make our nation's science and engineering enterprise the finest in the world.

Before we talk about IGERT, I want to make some comments about our overall planning framework at NSF and how we are implementing the strategic plan. This will provide some context for how IGERT fits into the bigger picture.

Since 9/11 there has been a great deal of introspection on the part of all of us about what we can be doing for the common good - to make the world a better place.

Those of us who have devoted our careers to advancing science and engineering should feel newly comforted in our career choice. More and more people are finally realizing that our work belongs at the top of the national agenda.

If you need more convincing, look at the steep rise in the NSF budget since 1998. That is tangible recognition that scientists and engineers play a critical role in the nation's welfare.

This brings me to how we at the Foundation approach the budget development process. Don't be embarrassed if you haven't read our strategic plan. It didn't make any best seller's lists. It is none-the-less the starting point for our priority setting process.

Today - I'd just like to focus on the ways that IGERT fits right into our overall goals for the Foundation.

It begins with a clear and simple vision: "Enabling the nation's future through discovery, learning, and innovation."

Not long ago, you would likely not have seen the word innovation in a vision statement for NSF. Now it's there--side-by-side with learning and discovery.

We pursue this vision through three goals: people, ideas, and tools. They are the stock in which NSF invests. Although we speak of them separately, they are, in fact, inseparable. They form the core of our strategic plan.

Through peer review, we choose the most capable people with the most insightful ideas. The goal is to support a diverse, internationally competitive workforce for science, engineering, and a well-prepared citizenry. The word diversity is front and center in the people goal.

Over 50% of NSF's investment portfolio lies within the idea goal. We provide the opportunity to advance a field in a new direction, accelerate its pace and, increasingly, help it build a bridge to another field.

Of course, none of this can be done without state-of-the-art tools. In this case--tools mean not only instruments, equipment, and laboratory facilities--but also overarching infrastructures such as networks and centers. These tools open up new vistas and frontiers for learning and discovery.

Integrating research and education is one of our highest priorities. We estimate broadly that nearly 200,000 people participate directly in NSF programs and activities each year. This includes researchers, postdoctoral students, undergraduates, and K-12 students and teachers.

It's no accident that the "I" in IGERT stands for Integrative. In fact, in almost all fields, the boundaries between and among disciplines are blurring. Often we find the most fertile scientific opportunities in these "foggy crossings" where the knowledge in one field answers questions in another.

Your role as IGERT awardees is crucial. Your job is to create the 'boundary-crossing attitude' and environment in graduate education for today and tomorrow. And now, we want you to create boundary crossing in a literal sense as well - by adding an international component.

IGERT is NSF's flagship for graduate education. It is an experiment to find new and creative ways of educating the new generation and embracing our intellectual capital of the future. It is holistic and flexible in approach. In some sense, it is a program designed to learn from itself.

The ultimate goal is to graduate PhDs with experiences that both span boundaries and dig deeply in several areas. Graduates will need these to meet the career demands of relentless change in trends, tools, technology, and tasks. In addition, the increased emphasis on International activities that you will hear more about later, fits well into the goal of the Foundation to have a globally engaged workforce of the future.

The community response to the program noted by the 75% increase in submissions over the past two years spurs us to consider increasing our support of the program not only in stipend increases, but also in the number of awards or students being educated in this manner.

Decades ago the migrant worker, social philosopher, and well-known writer Eric Hoffer said, "In times of change, learners will inherit the earth, while the learned will find themselves well-equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists."

We know that IGERT is about the world that already exists -and the one that will exist.

In this time of change, and with your help (100 sites, 2000 faculty and 2000 graduate students), we will have a new generation of learners. NSF is pleased and proud to sponsor your efforts, and it has been my pleasure to welcome you to NSF this morning.



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