Q and A with Dr E William Colglazier

November / December 2011 | Volume 10, Issue 6

Headshot of Dr. E. William Colglazier

Dr. E. William Colglazier is
the Science and Technology
Adviser to the Secretary of
State.

Dr. E. William Colglazier was appointed in July 2011 as the fourth Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State. The mission of the Office of the Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary (STAS) is to provide scientific and technical expertise and advice in support of the development and implementation of U.S. foreign policy. From 1994 to 2011, Dr. Colglazier served as Executive Officer of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council.

What role do you think science and technology should play in supporting U.S. foreign policy?

America's scientific and technical capabilities support our foreign policy by addressing challenging problems facing the world. In addition, scientists speak a common language that transcends political systems and cultures, which can create channels of communication even when governmental relations are difficult. This "science diplomacy" can be of enormous benefit, especially when opportunities emerge for improved political relations. During the height of the Cold War, American and Soviet scientists met to discuss issues related to nuclear arms control. Today, U.S. academies and scientific societies have continued to build bridges to a number of countries where governmental dialogue is strained or nonexistent.

What would you like to accomplish during your tenure as science and technology adviser?

First, I want to ensure that our office continues to be a good steward of three outstanding fellowship programs that bring scientifically-trained people to work at State and USAID - the American Association for the Advancement of Science fellowship program, which is the largest and generally for younger scientists; the Jefferson Fellows program, which is for tenured faculty; and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, which includes fellows from the private sector. Former fellows have permeated the department and greatly added to its scientific expertise. I also want to serve as a strong proponent of global scientific engagement. Nearly every country, regardless of its politics, respects America's scientific and technological enterprise; many want to engage with it for their own national interests, especially for stimulating innovation and economic growth. In addition to assisting the functional and regional bureaus at State and the science units in other U.S. agencies, our office is providing information about U.S. scientists who can serve in public diplomacy events overseas and promoting programs that facilitate bringing bright individuals to the U.S. for education and training in science, engineering and health fields. I also want to encourage other governments to seek independent, objective advice from their scientific communities.

How do you plan to engage the other U.S. government agencies that work in the areas of global health and biomedical research?

These agencies - especially NIH and CDC - are the "crown jewels" of our scientific enterprise and they are fully engaged internationally. The ability of Fogarty to fund foreign scientists is very important for advancing science as well as building relationships with other countries. My goal is to help ensure that these great assets for American science and diplomacy are fully known at the State Department, and that American diplomats are available to help NIH and CDC when needed. The administration's Global Health Initiative illustrates what can be accomplished by an interagency partnership contributing to science, diplomacy and development goals.

What opportunities for scientific collaboration in the Middle East do you envision as a result of the so-called 'Arab Spring'?

The opportunities for engagement and their potential benefits for accelerating economic development, addressing regional needs, and building stable democratic societies have increased significantly. The State Department and USAID are pursuing a wide range of programs in these countries, including the "Global Innovation through Science and Technology" initiative, the U.S. Science Envoy Program, the Arab-American Frontiers of Science, the new Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research program between USAID and NSF, the U.S.-Egypt Joint Science Fund, a new "center of excellence" for addressing water issues and a proposed program for young women to obtain undergraduate science degrees at U.S. women's colleges.

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