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July 1, 2003

An Interview with Sigma Xi President Peter Raven

Sigma Xi President Peter H. Raven is director of the Missouri Botanical Garden and Engelmann Professor of Botany at Washington University in St. Louis. A past president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he is a former Home Secretary for the National Academy of Sciences and chairs the National Research Councilís Division of Earth and Life Science. For his contributions to the fields of biodiversity and the environment, Raven received the National Medal of Science. He has been a member of Sigma Xi for 47 years.

What are your goals as Society president?
Sigma Xi exists mainly through its chapters and has a lot to offer, especially to colleges and universities. One of the main goals in our strategic planning is to strengthen Sigma Xi chapters, some of which are missing opportunities to host speakers and participate more actively in their communities. We are redoubling our efforts, because it is through our chapters that we can maintain membership levels and strengthen the Society. Executive Director Pat Sculley is doing an outstanding job in focusing our efforts. Weíre also being attentive to the financial health of the organization. Through more vigorous programs, we can attract and retain members and ensure a bright future.

The 2003 Forum in Los Angeles on November 12-13 will focus on international issues in science and technology. As forum chair, what do you hope the meeting to accomplish?
This yearís forum has a special emphasis on developing closer relations with Mexico, and thereís no better place to hold it than in Los Angeles. The program includes many distinguished guests from Mexico as well as other countries. We are set to have a very good discussion about strengthening international ties. Francisco Ayala, my successor as Sigma Xi president, has been involved in efforts to expand Sigma Xiís international network. This global theme offers opportunities for chapter involvement, and that will be a major focus?ways in which Sigma Xi chapters can participate in the international arena. We want to bolster chapter activities in this area.

How will the Societyís new home advance our mission?
The Sigma Xi Center will be a tremendous asset. It will help the Society have more of a physical presence and expand our capabilities. Weíll be able to hold forums there. Separating the forums from our annual meetings will allow greater focus on the Student Research Conference, which could become the premier event of its kind. I can also visualize a number of new activities developing at the Sigma Xi Center, similar in nature to the Postdoc Survey, which is an exemplary project. Understanding the postdoc experience is extremely important to the science and engineering community. Other such programs will rely on interdisciplinary interaction and Sigma Xiís traditional strength in ethics to engender the proper respect for the science and engineering professions. Many activities will flourish at the Sigma Xi Center, drawing on past experience and contributing to future success.

What does the future hold for Sigma Xi?
Personally speaking, I am glad to see a renewed emphasis on engineering and technology within the Society, because these disciplines are part of a seamless web that includes science. There are no real boundaries between them anymore. Weíre reaching out more to the engineering community in the U.S. and around the world, and thatís a good thing.

You've talked before about the value of Grants-in-Aid of Research. What would you like to see for this program?
We are working to secure additional resources for Grants-in-Aid of Research, so that we can increase the size and number of grants. This will help support our young inductees, most of whom are just starting out on their careers. The National Academy of Sciences recognized Sigma Xiís proficiency in this area and has contracted with the Society for many years to administer its small grant funds. Supporting student researchers is one of the most important things the Society does.

Could you comment on the Societyís growing use of the Internet?
Sigma Xiís online offerings will help solidify support by providing more and better services to members. The daily and weekly science news bulletins are good examples. They help members stay abreast of the latest developments. And, of course, American Scientist is phenomenal, with well-chosen and well-written articles. The magazine has set a standard that is highly regarded in scientific publishing. In addition to providing some valuable new features, the new American Scientist Online has made the magazineís contents more accessible, and thatís a great service in itself.


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