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Highlights from Embracing Globalization
Download the Full Report of Embracing Globalization (67 pages)

July 18, 2007

Sigma Xi Report: Scientific Workforce Must Develop Global Competence

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC - If the U.S. is to remain a leader in science and technology, our scientists and engineers must be able to work with researchers around the world, so that they can tap into and actively participate in the creation of new knowledge and innovation wherever and whenever it is occurring.

That is among the conclusions of a 67-page report called Embracing Globalization: Meeting the Challenges to U.S. Scientists and Engineers published online today by Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society. Highlights of the report will appear as a special insert in the September-October issue of American Scientist magazine.

The report is based on discussions at a three-day workshop called Assuring a Globally Engaged Science and Engineering Workforce that was held last September at National Science Foundation (NSF) headquarters in Arlington, Va. For the NSF-funded workshop, Sigma Xi brought together a group of 70 researchers, educators and industry representatives, along with 40 NSF staff, to address the question of how to cultivate and promote a globally competent U.S. science and engineering workforce.

Many nations, the Sigma Xi report notes, are investing time and resources in the four pillars of a knowledge economy: education and training, information infrastructure, economic incentive and institutional regimes, and innovation systems.

"To date, the U.S. has successfully supported all four of these pillars, but some are being weakened by a declining science and engineering workforce," the report says. "Countries such as China, India and Japan are challenging U.S. preeminence in providing centers of excellence for high-tech research and development, and countries around the globe are competing to provide a highly skilled workforce that will meet the requirements of a globalized economy."

According to Visiting Sigma Xi Scholar Elizabeth J. Kirk, principal investigator, "The U.S. lost almost 300,000 high-tech jobs to competition from abroad between 1998 and 2003, and American companies often cannot fill their personnel needs domestically because of a lack of scientific, engineering and technical expertise."

On top of that, she noted that it's estimated only about 21 percent of U.S. citizens hold passports. "In the future, more and more discoveries and innovations are going to come from beyond our borders," Kirk said. "Success in a global economy will require the U.S. to help its scientists and engineers achieve global competence."

Global competence entails the ability "not only to contribute to knowledge, but to comprehend, analyze and evaluate its meaning in the context of an increasingly globalized world," the report states. That means being able to work effectively in international settings and to adapt to diverse cultures, perceptions and approaches; having a familiarity with the major currents of global changes and the issues they raise; and being able to communicate effectively across cultural and linguistic boundaries.

"The federal government will necessarily be an important player in advancing the cause of global competence among U.S. researchers," Kirk said. "However, this report represents an 18-month effort not only to define globalization in a meaningful way for scientists and engineers specifically, but also to provide recommendations for all of the major players, public and private, whose partnerships and programs will assure continued U.S. leadership."

Workshop steering committee member Wayne C. Johnson said he was encouraged to see the NSF focus on global skills and the integration of our workforce. Johnson is senior vice president for university relations at Hewlett Packard. "The Global Engagement Workshop provided a unique opportunity to participate, listen and share in developing feedback for the future," he said. "The chance to have meaningful dialogue with NSF was an invaluable opportunity."

The Sigma Xi Globally Engaged Workforce (GEW) steering committee made a series of recommendations in a number of key areas, including K-12 education, colleges and universities, community colleges, industry, government and non-profits. The report mentions several successful state models worthy of emulation, such as North Carolina's biotech industry and California-based nanotechnology initiatives.

Gretchen Kalonji, director of international strategy development for the 10-campus University of California system and a member of the GEW steering committee, suggests that states undertake integrated approaches to collaborations in international research, education and workforce development not only in nanotechnology, but across all fields of science and engineering.

The Sigma Xi report recommends, at a minimum, that:

* Education and research institutions embed global competence skills at all levels of training, starting with K-12 education and continuing throughout the life of the scientist or engineer.

* The culture of U.S. educators, administrators, faculty, students and the public change to one where meaningful international collaboration is the norm rather than the exception.

* States and regions ensure that their citizens possess the global competence to attract and retain domestic and foreign investment in high-tech industries and have a workforce that can work well either within the U.S. or abroad.

* The U.S. develop a dynamic, flexible infrastructure that integrates science, engineering and information and communications technology so our scientists and engineers can readily work with researchers elsewhere in the world.

* Mechanisms be developed to build strong government, academic and industry ties that bolster the U.S. system of innovation in a global environment.

Will the U.S. take the bold leap forward to embrace globalization? Will the U.S. be able to achieve the international sensitivity needed to understand and appreciate the nuances of cultural diversity that are alive, well and thriving around the globe?

"If we continue to rest on our past accomplishments rather than to meet these new challenges with our ingenuity, flexibility and abundant resources, then we will fall behind," the report concludes.

Other workshop steering committee members included: Vera Alexander, dean emeritus, School of Fisheries and Ocean Science, University of Alaska Fairbanks; Julio Ibarra, executive director, Center for Internet Augmented Research and Assessment, Florida International University; Kathleen Kennedy, vice president for education and training, N.C. Biotechnology Center; Mark Lazar, deputy vice president for scholarships, training programs and international operations, International Institute of Education; Juan Lucena, associate professor, Liberal Arts and International Studies Division, Colorado School of Mines; and H. Dean Sutphin, professor, agriculture and extension education, Virginia Polytechnic and State University.

The project on Assuring a Globally Engaged Science and Engineering Workforce was supported by NSF grant #0541960.

Founded in 1886, Sigma Xi is the international honor society of science and engineering, with more than 500 chapters in North America and around the world. More than 200 Sigma Xi members have received the Nobel Prize. In addition to publishing American Scientist magazine, the society sponsors a variety of programs that support science and engineering. Sigma Xi's administrative offices are in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

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About Elizabeth J. Kirk, Visiting Sigma Xi Scholar
Elizabeth Kirk is a consultant on issues relating to science, technology, security and science policy. She is currently a visiting scholar at Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society, working on an NSF grant focusing on the development of a globally engaged U.S. scientific, technical and engineering workforce. Prior to that, she organized Capitol Hill and other briefings on science and security for Women in International Security (WIIS) under a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation program. From 2002-2003 she served as the technical liaison for the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC) at the National Coordination Office for Information Technology Research and Development. From 1988-2002 she was senior political scientist and program director in the International Directorate of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Prior to that, she was a systems analyst at the Mitre Corporation's Battlefield Systems Division. Kirk received her B.A. degree from Douglass College, Rutgers University and her M.A. and Ph.D. from Purdue University.


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