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Setting an Agenda for Sigma Xi

When Sigma Xi was founded toward the end of the 19th century by a small group of Cornell University science and engineering students and faculty, it was an act inspired partly by a perceived need for recognition of the scholarly potential and accomplishments of young scientists and engineers within an academic community that was bound by the traditions of classical scholarship. One early purpose of Sigma Xi was to bring together scholars from an expanding number of scientific disciplines so that they might communicate with one another and thus cross-fertilize each other's disciplines.

As the scope and magnitude of the scientific enterprise grew in a nearly exponential manner during the 20th century, the role of Sigma Xi in society expanded beyond the academic sphere, matured and mutated. When science became "big business," subject to the temptations and failings often associated with the business enterprise, Sigma Xi led a movement to establish ethical standards for the conduct of scientific research that could not only guide scientists and engineers but could also be applicable to society as a whole. A result was the 1984 publication by Sigma Xi of Honor in Science, an often-cited reference in the scientific literature that Sigma Xi is currently expanding so that it might better deal with contemporary concerns about ethical behavior in science.

At the end of the 20th century, through the developing Sigma Xi Center, Sigma Xi reaffirms its original intent to bring scientists (and other scholars) together so that they might better generate new approaches to scholarly research and cross-fertilize each other's disciplines. In addition, Sigma Xi has purposefully involved its membership in initiatives designed to better educate the public about science and engineering; more effectively promote the public support of research in science and technology; bring scientists and engineers together at the global as well as the national level; provide support for the education of young scientists and engineers; and make the membership of the scientific enterprise more inclusive so as to reflect better the globalization of science and technology.

At the end of a century of remarkable growth of scientific knowledge, we face a strange paradox. In a society where science and engineering are integral to each individual’s life and existence, there is a widely held perception that many, perhaps most, members of that society, and especially young people, have little understanding of, appreciation for and possibly interest in the role that science and technology plays in their lives. Thus, Sigma Xi might consider, as it develops its agenda at the beginning of the 21st century, some rather broad goals, namely: to increase public understanding of science and technology through education at all levels, from birth to death; to expand participation in the scientific enterprise so as to eliminate the need to consider factors such as gender or ethnicity; to enhance public appreciation for the integral role that science and technology has in contemporary society; and to re-establish public respect for scientists and engineers and the contributions that they make to society as a whole. Sigma Xi has in place or is developing programs designed to achieve these goals and depends upon its members not only for their support but also for their active participation.

Peggie J. Hollingsworth
President, Sigma Xi

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