Magazine article ASEE Prism

Enabling American Innovation: Engineering and the National Science Foundation

Magazine article ASEE Prism

Enabling American Innovation: Engineering and the National Science Foundation

Article excerpt

Enabling American Innovation: Engineering and the National Science Foundation

By Dian Olson Belanger. Purdue University Press; 1998; 375 pp., $37.95. Reviewed by Lawrence Casper

With a constant stream of conferences, books, studies, and reports on the subject of innovation, what niche does Enabling American Innovation fill? The answer comes on page 1: "This study traces engineers' struggle to win intellectual, financial and organizational recognition within the National Science Foundation." Dian Olson Belanger chronicles the complex political interplay between NSF's programs and its major stakeholders, including Congress, the basic science community and its societies, the engineering community and its societies, the National Science Board, the National Academies of Engineering and Science, and NSF staff and administration.

The prologue summarizes the foundations and development of engineering from its roots in the 1800s through its expansion during the World War II era. This is interesting and useful reading for those unfamiliar with engineering's history, but much of the text that follows delves into the personalities, politics, and policy details of the establishment and growth of NSF from the perspective of engineering. Although NSF's evolution is an important story, the level of detail is likely to be of interest primarily to technology policy cirdes, historians of science and engineering, and perhaps an occasional research administrator.

For the academic engineering community, the book's most important lesson is that politics has been and continues to be important in shaping the structure and functions of NSF. …

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