Occasional Paper II: What Works: Leadership— Challenges for the Future

Reflections on Leadership

Luther Williams
Assistant Director, Education and Human Resources Directorate
National Science Foundation

This paper is about what works in undergraduate science and mathematics and about reforming undergraduate science and mathematics education so that it works, and works better, in a world that is changing. Just as the world is changing, so must the nation's colleges and universities. First, there must be a community that values excellence in teaching and scholarship and is committed to the reform of undergraduate education. NSF continues to work hard to stimulate and encourage that community: it is here that new ideas emerge and experimentation is done.

In addition, this community must be ready to commit to changes that constitute systemic reform. More than ever before, individuals and organizations must cooperate if their objectives are to be achieved. Yet the nation's colleges and universities of all kinds two-year and four-year, public and private have not responded substantially to the need for cooperation and collaboration. Walls still exist between disciplines, between academic units, between institutions. These walls are ill-suited to educating the many different individuals seeking preparation for a vast array of personal and professional goals. We have not succeeded in effectively linking teaching, research, and our knowledge of how students learn. Colleges and universities have failed to prepare adequately for the new ways of learning that we are beginning to foster at the pre-college level. For all these reasons, there must be systemic change in undergraduate education; to accomplish this, there must be collaboration.

All sectors of the undergraduate community, as divers as they are, must work together to establish how such systemic change should come about. Our task as a community is a daunting one. We must have leaders who are ready to suggest, explore, and implement new approaches to the tasks and do this with some speed so we can achieve the reform of the system that we must have to serve the national and global needs as we enter the next century.

NSF is committed to supporting both productive experimentation and systemic change. The papers contained in this document contain some suggestions for both. We welcome the ideas and expect that we will see suggestions turned into actions. If we can effectively join the individual elements of reform and build a collaborative community, the nation will be better able to address a complex problem whose resolution will further increase the quality of life for all its citizens.