Preparing to Compete in a Flat World

President Sharon Herzberger 
Keynote Remarks to the AAWU Girls Science Project
​February 17, 2006 

Good morning.

How exciting to be in this room, facing a group of 400 bright young women. You have been selected by a teacher because you represent great possibilities for our future.

The world is flat. Have you heard that term? What it means is that the where once a nation and a people could dominate the world of ideas and creation, now ideas flow rapidly from one computer to another, one community to another, and one person to another.

The ability to learn and to invent is within the reach of anyone within the reach of a computer.

This means that, where once the United States dominated the world in creativity, invention, scientific breakthrough, discovery, and then business application, now individuals in countries around the world are on a more equal plane. And ideas are being generated in small and large communities by individuals who can rapidly find partners to launch their projects. And at the click of computer keys people in Whittier are finding like-minded collaborators with people in India, China, Brazil, and South Africa.

Thus, the world of ideas and invention is flat and global and we must prepare you to compete in this world.

You are growing to adulthood in this exciting world and you have been chosen to come here today because a teacher believes in you, and wants you to be part of this new world and help take us into the future.

You show an interest and an amazing aptitude for science, math, or technology now. Adults in your world hope that you will continue to develop your talents and we are here to help you.

As a social scientist, a college professor and president, and a mother of two sons in college, I will take just a few minutes to offer you a little advice from these varied perspectives.

First, recognize that the world of science and math is now filled with women who once sat in your position. While once I just had to imagine that women could hold positions of authority and power in science, today women are well represented. And while stereotypes still abound about men being interested in science and math - but not women, we know that this is far from the truth. On college campuses today, women often are the majority of science majors. If you pursue science or math as a career, you will find yourself among very talented women.

I had the pleasure of listening to Dr. France Cordova - chancellor of the University of California at Riverside last Sunday. She was the chief scientist for NASA, a world-renowned astrophysicist and now heads a university and works with many young women like you.

I have the pleasure of working every day with women scientists at Whittier. For example, Dr. Cheryl Swift, an environmental biologist, a professor at Whittier College, who studies the sex lives of trees and takes our students camping on Catalina Island and the El Puente Hills right behind where we are today.

And today you will hear from many women who work in science careers here at Rio Hondo Community College and around this area.

So, if you pursue a career in science, math, or technology, you will be surrounded by smart, accomplished women.

Second, don't listen to the naysayers. My husband and I some years ago took my older son to his university. On the first day we sat in a large hall listening to a dean of engineering tell my son and other engineering students that they should look to the left and the right, that two of the three of them would not survive the rigors of science education. The dean said this with pride, communicating that science and math were hard, too hard for most.

Don't listen to deans, professors, and teachers like that. Don't pay attention to those who would discourage you. Science is hard, but so is life. Get over it and do your best.

And find another mentor - one who believes and knows that you can make it. And you can.

Third, you will stumble, but you do not need to fall. Very few of us achieve our aspirations without setbacks. Many of us have failed, some over and over. The difference between those who achieve their dreams and those who drop out is purely the will to persevere, to put one step in front of another and keep on going on. So, when you do encounter a setback or a failure, just try again, and try harder. That is the simple key to success and achievement.

Finally, even if one day you decide you don't want to continue in science and math, study it all you can now. It opens doors to your future, and it teaches skills that will help you the rest of your life.

In the years to come in high school, through science and math you will learn how to ask better questions, how to test hypotheses, gather information reliably, and draw valid conclusions. You will learn to think analytically and creatively about the world around you. You will become smarter and more thoughtful. And, regardless of your path in life and your career choices, you will be a more informed citizen of this flat world.

I know I am looking at someone out there who will study and travel into space, someone who will invent a new cure for disease, someone who will treat children in Whittier's Presbyterian hospital, someone who will have the honor of teaching the next generation of students about science and math, and someone who through science and math will reach across the world and form connections, collaborations, and solidarity with another inventive mind to produce an idea that will change the future.

I am honored to have been chosen to speak to you today and I wish you the very best for your future.