Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Math, and Engineering Mentoring
The Honorable Neal Lane
Assistant to the President for Science and Technology

Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Math, and Engineering Mentoring

December 6, 1999


Thank you very much.  I have been looking forward to this event. It’s such a pleasure to gather with friends of science and technology to honor the mentors of our future scientists and engineers.

Speaking of friends of science and technology, I want to note with sadness the absence of a good friend and stalwart supporter of this event, Congressman George Brown, who was taken from us last summer.  George once observed that:

“Over the last half century, we have achieved spectacular scientific and engineering accomplishments in the service of a Vigilant Society. We now need to enlist our science and technology in the service of a Humane Society where work is meaningful, families are secure, children are well fed and well educated, where prevention is the first line of defense in health care, where the environment is respected and protected for future generations, and where sustainable development becomes the conscience of our progress.”

This Administration has recognized the need to broaden our national science and technology portfolio to serve post-Cold War needs.  And we have recognized that this type of success requires broadening and diversifying the base of participants in the science and technology enterprise.

We are beginning to see some movement toward greater participation by all population groups in science and technology.  The National Science Foundation reported some positive news in the report it released earlier this year on Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering:

· The number of women and minorities enrolled and
earning undergraduate science and engineering degrees continues to increase.

· Between 1982 and 1994, the percentage of black, Hispanic, and Native American students taking basic and advanced math courses doubled.

· And the gender gap in K-12 mathematics achievement has, for the most part, disappeared.

But we all know that much work remains to be done in science and engineering, as well as other areas, if we hope to see true equality in the 21st century. Not all of the news NSF reported was good:  despite the gains, women, minorities, and persons with disabilities remain underrepresented in science and engineering fields.

Underrepresentation in science and engineering is a serious problem for our nation. There are many reasons, but three in particular resonate with me:

· First, careers in science and engineering are immensely rewarding, and all Americans should have the opportunity to participate – it’s what America is all about;

· Second, having scientists and engineers with diverse backgrounds, interests, and cultures assures better scientific and technological results and the best uses of those results; and

· Finally, we simply need people with the best minds and skills, and many of those are women, many are persons with disabilities, many are black, Latino, Native Americans, Asians, persons of all ethnic groups and nationalities.

As you know, President Clinton established these mentoring awards tohelp encourage students from all backgrounds to dream of and work toward careers in science and technology.  I would like to discuss just briefly some other actions the Administration has taken in K-12 education and could take in other areas to help create the science, engineering, and technology workforce of the future.

K-12 Math and Science Education

Our first and greatest challenge is to make science accessible to all Americans, especially our children.  All kids start out wanting to know “the what, how, and why” about their world.  It is up to us –as parents, teachers, and citizens – to sustain that curiosity and the joy of science and math throughout their school years.  I am sure you are already familiar with the major programs in the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation.  So today I want to talk about two relatively new efforts.

Interagency Education Research Initiative

The first effort is in research.  Everybody wants to know “whatworks” in education, but historically, investments in educational research have been . . . insubstantial.  President Clinton’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology – PCAST – pointed out in 1997 that we spend more than $300 billion on K-12 public education each year, but we spend less than 0.1 percent of that amount on examination and improvement of educational practice.  That’s far less than what it ought to be by comparison with most any sector of industry.

In response to the PCAST recommendation for increased funding, the Federal government launched the Interagency Education Research Initiative (IERI), to fund large-scale, interdisciplinary research that will yield educational strategies that improve K-12 education.  We expect the IERI to greatly accelerate the pace of linking what we know about teaching and learning in core subjects like mathematics and science to improvements in classrooms across the country.  An innovative partnership that includes the NSF, Department of Education, and the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development has already made one round of exciting new grants under this initiative and is gearing up to make more in the months ahead.

A promising example of an IERI project features a large-scale evaluation of “whole school” reform models for reading and mathematics that are currently being adopted by scores of schools across the country.  While the most popular of these programs have shown signs of effectiveness, schools currently lack a strong research base to help them make the best decision about what approaches are most likely to succeed in their particular classrooms. A global perspective of four of the most widely used reforms will allow researchers from the University of Michigan to identify for the first time what core elements of the programs and classroom environments lead to improvements in teaching and learning across a diverse set of classrooms.  Wide dissemination of the results of this rigorous study will greatly improve the ability of local communities to make smart decisions based on the best knowledge available of how these programs work and why.

The Glenn Commission

 Another recent effort that the Federal government has spearheaded to improve the mathematics and science education that our elementary and secondary students receive is the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century, chaired by former Senator and astronaut John Glenn.  Dr. Colwell and I serve as ex-officio members on this Commission, which is developing recommendations to be released next Fall.  The Commission hopes to provide an impetus for providing better support throughout teachers’careers and for improving mathematics and science teaching methods, a key aspect of mathematics and science education that to date has received little-to-no attention.

 K-12 Math, Science, and Technology Teacher Recruitment

 The other new effort I want to tell you about is a pilot program started by my office and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology(NIST) in the Department of Commerce.  We have partnered school boards with local businesses to recruit and hire math, science, and technology teachers and provide them with year-long salaries for at least four years. Business leaders will guarantee summer employment for the teachers and support development of teaching methods that incorporate real-world experience. We anticipate several benefits from this initiative:

· First, our kids get better math and science teachers.

· Graduates have a better chance of securing jobs in their communities.

· Companies have a better chance of getting workers with the skills they need.

· And teachers get more money!

 Bringing NIST into our efforts to improve K-12 education injected new ideas and perspectives on this issue – the very result we hope for by increasing diversity throughout science, engineering, and technology.

 Next Steps for the Federal Government

 The Federal government’s interest in science and math education does not end when children graduate from high school.  We take an interest in the science, engineering, and technology pipeline from beginning to end, and we know we have a lot of work to do.
 For example, I believe the Administration should engage in a national dialogue with private industry, academia, and local government and community leaders to identify the barriers that inhibit the full participation of women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in the nation’s science,engineering, and technology workforce.  We can work with the private sector to overcome those barriers by ensuring that all companies that are directly dependent on the science, engineering, and technology workforce know about “best practices” that lead to increased participation of the affected groups.  Maybe this dialogue will inspire more businesses and business leaders to step up to the plate the way Bill Gates has done.

 I also believe the federal government should expand some of our most successful programs.  A great example is the Bridges Program at the National Institutes of Health, which helps students at two-year community colleges make the transition to four-year colleges, and students in master’s degree programs to make the transition to doctoral programs. And NSF has programs to do the same thing.

 I particularly want to encourage agencies to think about diversity as a part of everything they do, not just special programs.  The Department of Energy has done this with its contracting process for the national laboratories– with great success at Los Alamos.  And shortly before I left NSF,it adopted new merit review criteria, which are used to identify and fund the most meritorious research proposals.  One of the new NSF criteria addresses societal impacts, including human resource development and contributions to increased diversity.

 To conclude my remarks, I want to cite President Clinton, who said:

 "First, science and its benefits must be delivered toward making life better for all Americans – never just a privileged few. . . . Science must not create a new line of separation between the haves and the have-nots, "those with and those without the tools and understanding to learn and use technology. . . .  Science can serve the values and interests of all Americans, but only if all Americans are given a chance to participate in science."

 I agree with the President, and we are taking his admonition to open science, engineering, and technology careers to all Americans seriously. I want to add, however, that no matter how successful we are in recruiting Americans into the science, engineering, and technology workforce, there has always been and must always be a place for individuals from other parts of the world if we are to remain the world’s leader in this enterprise. But, our special challenge is to make S&T more inclusive – more appealing and more rewarding – to all individuals and communities in America.

Homogeneity makes us stale.  Our national science and technology enterprise needs practitioners from diverse backgrounds and perspectives if we want to keep our lead in the Age of Innovation.  You are on the front lines of our effort to put the face of America on science and engineering.  I thank each and every one of you for helping prepare for a better America, and a better world.

So congratulations to you who are being honored today – and to your families, who share in your success.  On behalf of the President,let me say how proud we all are of your achievements and to thank you for what you are doing for America !

Office of Science and Technology Policy
1600 Pennsylvania Ave, N.W
Washington, DC 20502

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Improving Federal Laboratories to Meet the Challenges of the 21st Century

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