The National Science Foundation’s Director Talks About the Agency’s Future

The director of the National Science Foundation celebrated geoscience and encouraged geoscientists to forge stronger connections with the agency during a special lecture at the Geological Society of America’s Annual Meeting in Baltimore on November 1.

France Córdova, NSF’s director since 2014, said that geoscience is important for “inspiring human capabilities and capital for the future.” Córdova acknowledged NSF’s financial hurdles with Congress, but said that NSF makes sure that young scientists, especially, are funded and able to do science. “Geology offers young students fascination with the natural world,” she said.

Córdova spoke about a new initiative, “NSF INCLUDES,” which stands for “Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners that have been Underrepresented for Diversity in Engineering and Science.” NSF wants to increase its more localized efforts to engage students and change the balance of diversity in science, Córdova said.  The program aims to better prepare traditionally underrepresented people – including minority ethnic or racial groups, women and girls and people with disabilities – for careers in science and engineering.

France Córdova at the podium during her special lecture at GSA's 2015 meeting in Baltimore.

France Córdova at the podium during her special lecture at GSA’s 2015 meeting in Baltimore.

Students with advanced degrees in geoscience go into a variety of fields, Córdova said, including academia, oil and gas, environmental services and mining, among others. She cited data from the American Geosciences Institute examining where geoscience graduates go after obtaining bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.

Córdova said that although the nation looks to NSF to further science and better prepare graduates for the working world, the organization is dependent on Congress for funding. To increase awareness of geoscience, Córdova visits at least three congressional offices each week, she said, and always makes a point to talk about jobs.

NSF seeks to enable discoveries and discoverers, Córdova said – not only is it important for people to learn how to make the planet thrive, humans have the responsibility of protecting it, she said. Córdova ended her lecture on a poetic note, quoting T.S. Eliot’s “The Little Gidding.”

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

Córdova has a doctorate in physics from the California Institute of Technology and took on a number of positions prior to joining NSF, including NASA’s chief scientist from 1993 to 1996, University of California, Riverside’s chancellor and distinguished professor of physics and astronomy from 2002 to 2007 and president of Purdue University from 2007 to 2012.

By Elizabeth Goldbaum, GSA Science Policy Fellow

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