President Jackson Address Calls for
New Approaches To Harness the Power of Science and Technology
President Shirley Ann Jackson has called for a new way of working and learning to harness the power of science and technology—particularly in the arenas of “big data,” high performance computing, and web science—for the urgent purpose of developing answers to the intersecting challenges of energy, food, water, health, and national security, climate change, and natural resource allocation, which are fundamental to our daily lives and to the long-term viability of the planet.
President Jackson spoke at the Royal Academy of Engineering, in London, England, delivering the 2013 ERA Foundation International Lecture on Jan. 22.
Calling for increased collaboration across disciplines and sectors, Jackson said, “The urgent, global concerns that we face in the 21st century, and beyond, are more complex and even more subject to intersecting vulnerabilities. These challenges…will take all that we have in terms of ingenuity, collaboration, and good judgment. These are challenges of unprecedented magnitude, too complex to be resolved by the independent actions of those working in isolation. Because they are critical to our world, and to the ultimate survival of humankind, they demand the best of our imagination and creativity, careful deliberation, tremendous resourcefulness, and the strictest focus and discipline.”
Envisioning a “new Polytechnic,” President Jackson noted that “effective use of advanced technological, collaborative platforms strongly suggests the need for a shift beyond traditional leadership, both in process and in personal approach.”
As the world becomes more digitally interconnected and data driven, she said we “will use data in ever more sophisticated ways, while exploiting our ubiquitous interconnectivity. In fact, the interconnectivity of people and things is generating massive amounts of data. To make sense of all that data requires us to exploit that very interconnectivity to collaborate in new ways. It requires us to break out of disciplinary silos, exploit new technological tools, employ high performance computing, data aggregation, and analytics.”
“The new Polytechnic requires that leaders acquire new skills for a digitally interconnected environment, that they balance authority with engagement, understand nuances of culture and language, seek new ways to establish trust among, within, and between virtual teams.
“With more diverse, digitally connected audiences—participants who may never before have had a voice, and may even be volunteers—and with less hierarchical dynamics, there will be concerns about trust on multiple levels. Leaders must recognize value in divergent perspectives and manage opposing expectations. And, they must accomplish all this in a virtual environment where the leader may never look participants in the eye or shake their hands,” President Jackson said. “To bring people together, new leaders must have the ability to ‘translate’ between and among disciplines and sectors. They will need to incorporate analyses and insights from diverse fields including the cognitive and social sciences, and bring them to bear on a given challenge.”
President Jackson believes that a more interdisciplinary approach “will impact research in powerful new ways. It will impact the profession of teaching as we enlist the next generations of students in this construct, and educate them to be leaders in the digital economy.”
“To address access to clean water, food and energy security, health security and disease mitigation, and other urgent global challenges, the new Polytechnic—utilizing advanced technology to combine a multiplicity of perspectives and disciplines—can lead to greater vision and deeper understanding, and is our best bet for assuaging the human hunger to know and to remedy, and the human desire for uplifted lives,” she said.
For the text of the lecture, go to www.rpi.edu/president/speeches/ps012213-era.html.