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Norman Augustine: Science Leader Recognized for Character Education

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The Character Education Partnership, a national nonprofit organization led by business and educational leaders, recently announced that Norman R. Augustine has been chosen to receive its 2012 American Patriot of Character award -- to be presented in Washington, DC in November. No one deserves it more, as Norm Augustine has demonstrated true character, integrity, and public commitment -- and their value in achieving greatness -- through his numerous and varied roles of national leadership.

I've had the privilege -- as President of Research Corporation for Science Advancement, the nation's oldest foundation devoted wholly to science -- of knowing Norm Augustine for several years. And it's a truly rare person who combines the values and accomplishments that he represents -- reflected in his business leadership, government leadership, nonprofit leadership, and his unparalleled championing of a national cause as important as American economic competitiveness.

Norm Augustine is former Chairman and CEO of the Lockheed Martin Corporation, former Under Secretary of the U.S. Army, former Chairman of the American Red Cross, former President of the Boy Scouts of America, former Chair of the National Academy of Engineering, and, to this day, a crucial leader in focusing national public attention on the need to improve science education in America. He is the recipient, among many honors, of the U.S. Department of Defense's Distinguished Service Medal (five times) and the National Medal of Technology awarded by the President of the United States.

His crucial role in advocacy for U.S. scientific preeminence is evident in his having received the National Science Foundation's Vannevar Bush Award, the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Philip Hauge Abelson Prize, and the Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Sciences. Those awards recognize the extraordinary role that he has played in chairing two national studies that have changed the way America approaches science education -- and in ensuring that the findings of those studies impact public policy discussions.

The first of those studies, published in 2005, was the landmark report Rising above the Gathering Storm, produced by a joint committee of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. It warned about the United States' ability to prosper in an increasingly competitive global economy, and it sounded an alarm that reverberated widely.

Five years later, the same organizations issued a follow-up report -- again with Norman Augustine chairing the committee -- revealing an even worse picture: Rising above the Gathering Storm, Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5. This report illuminated our nation's accelerating decay in the areas of basic scientific research and science education, two key engines of the very innovation that the report maintained is a primary driver of our economic future.

Approaching Category 5's authors concluded that:

The nation's competitive outlook has worsened since 2005, when Gathering Storm issued its call to strengthen K-12 education and double the federal budget for basic research. While progress has been made in certain areas, the latitude to fix the problems being confronted has been severely diminished by the economic recession and growth of the national debt over this period from $8 trillion to $13 trillion.

Moreover, the authors observe, "other nations have been markedly progressing, thereby affecting America's relative ability to compete for new factories, research laboratories and jobs."

As Approaching Category 5 pointed out:

  • Sixty-nine percent of U.S. public school students in fifth through eighth grade are taught mathematics by a teacher without a degree or certificate in mathematics.
  • Ninety-three percent of U.S. public school students in fifth through eighth grade are taught the physical sciences by a teacher without a degree or certificate in the physical sciences.
  • In 2000, the number of foreign students studying the physical sciences and engineering in U.S. graduate schools for the first time surpassed the number of U.S. students.
  • China's Tsinghua and Peking universities are the two largest suppliers of students who receive Ph.D.s -- in the United States
.

The Character Education Partnership defines "character" comprehensively to include thinking, feeling, and doing. Norm Augustine's character embraces all three, as is evident from his leadership of the Gathering Storm reports. He starts with thinking (research and analysis), moves to feeling (passionate advocacy of the resulting findings and their implications for the nation), and moves to doing (working to build a national constituency for change that will ensure that public policy reflects the results of the thinking).

Earlier this year, Norm Augustine gave the keynote address at our organization's 100th Anniversary Gala in Washington, DC. In his speech, he reflected the character that motivates his commitment to science. "Scientists performing basic research provide ... knowledge that could lead to solutions to many of the challenges that face our world today," he noted. "These challenges include providing affordable healthcare; providing clean, sustainable, affordable energy; protecting us from terrorism; conserving our planet's natural environment; and building an economy that ensures that everyone who wants a job can have one."

Norman Augustine is truly a man of character. He deserves all of the recognition that he receives, and he will no doubt continue to use that recognition to talk further with the American people about the challenge of maintaining our global economic competitiveness and the importance of science in that quest.

James M. Gentile is president and CEO of Research Corporation for Science Advancement (www.rescorp.org), which celebrates its Centennial -- 100 years of science advancement -- this year.