NSF News

NSF Director delivers keynote at Virginia Commonwealth University commencement ceremony, joins Virginia representative for roundtable

On Dec. 9, U.S. National Science Foundation Director Sethuraman Panchanathan delivered the keynote address at the Virginia Commonwealth University's winter Commencement Ceremony, where he was conferred an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. While visiting VCU, he also joined Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA) and cross-sectoral leaders for a roundtable discussion focused on promoting science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education.

"V-C-U!" said Panchanathan, drawing out each letter to sound like "we see you" as he gestured to himself and university leadership on stage and then back to the approximately 2,500 graduates. "V C your determination, V C your hard work, V C your perseverance — you are here today because of all that."

Panchanathan shared with the graduates his "10 Cs of success:" curiosity, commitment, courage, collaboration, communication, continuous learning, competition, civility, cheerful disposition, and compassion. These, he said, would be critical for their journey to excellence.

"There will be times when you have challenges, when you will be asked to make hard choices," said Panchanathan, but facing those moments with courage is what shapes the most successful people. He pointed to role models like Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., who "exemplified the spirit of courage" to make the world a better place.

Before closing his speech, Panchanathan called on the graduates to pledge themselves to mentoring, inspiring and "lifting at least 25 people" during their lifetimes. By empowering others and providing them with opportunities to succeed, he said, we provide ourselves with the opportunity to live a full, happy, and purposeful life — the ultimate measure of success.

On Dec. 8, the day prior to the commencement ceremony, Panchanathan met with Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA) to discuss the "CHIPS and Science Act of 2022," Virginia's research and innovation ecosystem and NSF's investments across the state which totaled over $228 million in Fiscal Year 2022 alone.

After, he and Wittman joined the acting director of the Center for Innovation in STEM Education at the VCU School of Education and the executive director of CodeRVA Regional High School for a roundtable focused on preparing skilled workers and empowering tomorrow's leaders through STEM education. They discussed the importance of broadening participation, as well as initiatives and opportunities which promote equity, accessibility, and inclusion across STEM.

One successful example that came up was the Virginia-North Carolina Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation's (LSAMP) Bridge to the Doctorate fellowship program. This NSF-funded activity offers talented students from multiple LSAMP alliances the opportunity to pursue doctoral degrees in STEM fields at VCU.

"We need to bring 4 million additional people into our STEM communities by 2030 to fulfill critical needs of the U.S. STEM enterprise," Panchanathan said. "NSF is committed to energizing and supporting this talent which exists in every corner of this nation." To do so, we will continue to scale established programs and introduce new initiatives in key areas around: workforce development, supporting a lifetime of learning, opening doors to STEM education, advancing careers in STEM and retaining STEM talent."