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Dr. Bordogna's Remarks


Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer
National Science Foundation
Engineering Societies Diversity Summit II
Washington, DC

September 17, 2003

Thank you for the opportunity to make remarks today. It's been an enjoyable day - the questions and responses have been astute and on the button. The subject of these deliberations is both a concern and a passion for all of us in this room - the success of our nation's future depends on strategic and action-oriented meetings about diversity in science and engineering such as this one. I think all of us here recognize that if our 21st Century science and engineering workforce is not representative of our citizenry, we as a nation will miss the most promising opportunity for continued US success. The loss will cut two ways -- it will rob worthy individuals of the chance to enrich their lives and to contribute to the engine of our economy and culture, and it will undermine the ability of our nation to prosper within an increasingly competitive world.

Today we have been engaged in developing a collective strategic policy statement particularly designed to broaden participation in the engineering community and we have been also engaged somewhat in struggling with approaches to holistic actions, an important issue that I am sure we will tackle vigorously in future interactions.

Along the way in our lives, we have learned that wanting to broaden the participation of underrepresented minorities and women in engineering education and careers is just not enough. There must be action agenda that create paths for making this happen ... along with the hard, dedicated work that must be done to realize results. Having a collective policy statement can be powerful leverage toward this end.

The policy statement being forged by the engineering organizations and societies gathered here is fundamental to accelerating action on the know-how the engineering community, within its various parts, has garnered over the past three decades on how to broaden participation. The intent now can be to capitalize on the rich myriad investments of the policy's partners by integrating and synergizing them to embrace scope and realize scale.

At the National Science Foundation, we have an action investment called Workforce for the 21st Century. It undergirds the core of the Foundation's mandated mission to advance the frontiers of science and engineering and to promote high quality science, engineering, and mathematics education from primary school through graduate education. Its focus is on domestic citizens and broadening participation throughout all NSF investments.

We, here, have all been party to developing the building blocks of this workforce investment over several decades. Now is the time to integrate them. Now is the time to make the whole greater than the sum of the individual building blocks.

In this context, the future of engineering lies not only within the great legacy of engineering success we've enjoyed up to today, but also, and more importantly, in the making of the engineers of tomorrow. Foremost in this effort is our design of the process by which we enlist, educate, engage, ensure diversity, and instill passion and ethical behavior in the next generation of engineers. The design is something we can formulate now – it is a necessary next step in a long but crucial journey toward improvement and change.

Engineers have always had a role and responsibility in the continuing progress of society. From an engineer's point of view, we are the ones responsible for getting things done and out the door in our society. In an ever-changing world, growing in myriad dimensions, on scales ranging from the nanoparticle to newly discovered galaxies, we must define our vision for the future of engineering -- a future that will not confine and constrict our potential.

Our vision must incorporate actions for the pro-active recruitment of more women and underrepresented minorities. The nation's demographics have been moving toward a majority of minorities for many years. We have neglected to capitalize on this change; we have neglected the opportunities that this change offers. We are now playing catch up in a very competitive world.

Most of us would agree that U.S. engineering education is the best in the world. The frontier research of cutting-edge tools and skill sets that characterize our nation's engineering schools make them intellectual magnets, drawing students from every nation of the world. The result of this global concentration of engineers is the diffusing of new knowledge and technology across international borders, thus contributing to our common future on the planet.

But this raises an obvious and sobering question. If U.S. engineering education is the greatest in the world, why aren't domestic students flocking to the engineering fold?

We have to ask ourselves: Will there be a robustly capable supply of knowledgeable workers to meet increasing demands in our society and workplace? Will an exodus of international talent, combined with growing numbers of engineers trained in other nations throughout the world, and staying where they are, dull the competitive edge we enjoy in the United States?

The U.S. has neglected pro-active recruitment of our native talent to the engineering field. As a strategic, as well as equitable, manifestation of this intent for engineering advancement, we unequivocally need more women and underrepresented minorities in the engineering workforce. If we don't encourage individuals from all diverse groups to enter into the complex and dynamic field of engineering, we lose out on the opportunity to maximize the potential of our intellectual capital.

The differences that abound in race and ethnicity in our society should be encouraged and embraced. They are a gift for our future and should be nurtured. The divisions should be erased. They are a drag on our energy and creativity.

Future engineers must fit a tall order of capabilities. They must be holistic designers, astute makers, trusted innovators, harm avoiders, change agents, master integrators, enterprise enablers, knowledge handlers, technology stewards, and above all else, they must be connected to the world that they strive to better.

This is a daunting repertoire of skills and talents, but by no means beyond our ability to achieve. The best engineers in all eras have lived up to this description. However, there is something more enabling about the era in which we live than any of the past.

We have moved into a whole new threshold of capabilities that breach with the past and that will catapult us beyond today's horizons. The advent of cyberinfrastructure has resulted in a potential leveling of the playing field – it has endowed many with the capability to find the information and tools they seek to educate themselves and make contributions. Cyberinfrastructure is an equalizer, an enabler. It will increasingly democratize education and opportunity. Despite such tools, unless the desire and the drive exist in the individual, capability alone will not lead to success. This is where we come in. It is our job to plant the seeds of curiosity and interest, from which future generations will sow the benefits.

But how do we go about making this change? To start, the principles set forth by engineering and diversity societies and organizations will give guidance in how to broaden our nation's minority participation in the sciences and engineering. The focus should be expanding the participation of domestic citizens. This should not be construed as a policy against outsiders but rather a policy to strengthen our internal resources.

The success of the engineering field, and the success of every aspect of society that enjoys the benefits of innovative problem solving and future-improving engineering, not only seeks diversity, but needs diversity in order to thrive in an ever-changing world.

Now, a bit about NSF and why we appreciate being at the collaborative table. As steward of the health of our nation's science and engineering enterprise, NSF works at the frontier of research and education, where risks and rewards are high, and where potential benefits to society are most promising.

This is familiar territory to all of you. More than most, engineers have opportunities to ride the crest of the wave and arrive first at new shores. I say "opportunity" because exploring new frontiers is exhilarating and deeply satisfying. We can realize our personal aspirations as we also advance the collective future of our society and nation. It doesn't get any better than that!

The amazing transformations that new knowledge and technology continuously trigger in our contemporary world bring education squarely into the limelight. In our knowledge-based economy and society, education is an investment in our nation's future. Engineering education in particular is an investment in our nation's capacity to perform.

This is an awesome responsibility, ranging from an everyday improvement of contemporary society's operative underpinnings to responding smartly to sudden change.

If engineers want to welcome new participants to their ranks, and make sure those participants are inclusive of women and minorities, they need to go beyond a public pledge to invite diversity – they need to roll up their sleeves and work for it. MRC Greenwood, Chancellor of UC Santa Cruz, says, "You can't wring your hands and roll up your sleeves at the same time."

I'm going to ask my earlier question once more. If domestic engineering education is the best in the world, why aren’t domestic students flocking to the engineering fold?

For some years, this question has been a serious concern and focus for the National Science Foundation. More recently, it has become a hot topic well beyond the engineering and scientific community. Industry, academe, government at all levels, and parents want to know if we are on the right track.

There is growing clamor to recruit more of our native talent to the engineering fold. And believe me, you'll find NSF among the loudest! We need their talent and their perspectives. Without them, we will one day awaken, like the fictional Rip Van Winkle, to a world that has passed us by.

There is a deeper, abiding issue at stake. In 1822, James Madison wrote:

"A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps, both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." Madison's words are still fresh and instructive today.

This is the most fundamental rationale for an open-door policy to an engineering education. Let's advocate an open door policy that educates and enables our own citizens to be contributing participants in our great democratic system as well as continuing the successful policy of embracing those from abroad.

This new perspective on an old policy will make us a genuine welcoming nation to both talent from abroad and from the nation's women and underrepresented minorities. It can never be one or the other. They are not mutually exclusive. The Statue of Liberty's torch must light the way for those within our borders as well as those from outside. If we engineers aspire to be leaders, this is the challenge we must accept and meet.

The management guru Peter Drucker began talking about the need for knowledge workers and pervasive innovation at least forty years ago. Years later, when asked how he could be so prescient in his predictions, he replied: "I never predict. I just look out the window and see what's visible—but not yet seen." With that same kind of foresight vision I am sure Drucker could also glimpse the nation's evolving demographics when few others noticed them.

As engineering societies and organizations we must develop a collective vision that sees "what's visible – but not yet seen." This will require us to speak with one voice, along with the valuable multi-faceted chorus of our eclectic set of engineering disciplines and diverse peoples, but with a singular objective and strategies that reach academe, public school systems, industry, government and the public. I suggest that we measure our progress by the number of students from underrepresented groups graduated. To achieve success we must take the cacophony of well-played individual instruments played individually and turn it into a frontier-busting symphony.

In closing, let me say that this process of including and embracing everyone in engineering does not have a beginning or an end. It must become the new fabric of engineering and endure throughout this new century.



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