Speaking at the Association of International Education Administrators 40th annual conference in New Orleans, Sethuraman Panchanathan, director of the US National Science Foundation, spoke of the longevity of the NSF mission. “It has stood the test of time. For over seven decades, it has guided us, led us, motivated us, and inspired us,” he said.
Over 500 international educators from 27 countries gathered in the Louisiana city for the event from February 20-23. For many, it was their first in-person conference since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The director spoke of NSF’s three central pillars, with the first being the advancement of the frontiers of research into the future. As Panchanathan defined the second pillar, ensuring accessibility and inclusivity, he was met with multiple rounds of applause from the hundreds of educators assembled in the Grand Ballroom.
He referred to underserved populations as the “missing millions”, imploring, “we cannot, must not, should not continue to have educational opportunities afforded only for the chosen few”. He affirmed that talent and ideas should be democratised “across all 50 states of the nation, across a broad socio-economic demographic”.
“We have to make sure that talent everywhere is inspired and motivated all the way from K to 12, through community colleges, universities, and beyond. Opportunity has to be for everyone,” he said.
Panchanathan considered the third pillar, securing global leadership, the most important, explaining, “Securing global leadership does not mean America is the leader of the rest of the world”.
“What I mean by securing global leadership is partnering with countries who are like-minded”
“What I mean by securing global leadership is partnering with countries who are like-minded, who shared our values, as partnership can strengthen the experience,” he added.
In his discussion of global leadership, Panchanathan referenced NSF innovation and funding from the department’s inception, to current projects, to priorities for the future. He mentioned NSF funding and initiatives that led to the founding of Google, the creation of 3D printing, and technology that saved lives during the pandemic, such the PCR test, PPE, and ventilator parts.
Panchanathan highlighted NSF international partnerships projects such as the particle accelerator in Switzerland, high-powered telescopes in Chile, the International Ocean Discovery Program with Japan, and programs at McMurdo and Palmer Stations in Antarctica, referencing the “tremendous partnerships from across the globe that makes possible unbelievable innovations”.
He expressed deep appreciation for the priorities laid out by the Biden-Harris administration, adding, “I’m most grateful for the tremendous bipartisan support because it’s a unique moment in our nation”.
Panchanathan asserted that moving forward, NSF will be focusing much effort on climate concerns such as climate adaptation, mitigation, resilience, and equity.
NSF was created in 1950 by Congress as an independent federal agency charged with promoting the progress of science; advancing the national health, prosperity, and welfare of the country; and securing its national defence.
Panchanathan, a computer scientist and engineer was unanimously approved as NSF director by Congress in 2019.
In closing, Panchanathan stressed the importance of NSF and AIEA being interconnected, and encouraged AIEA leaders to present “not just only challenges, but ideas and solutions that can be embraced by NSF and other agencies. So that together we might affect the future with strength and speed.”