Environmental Factor, June 2007, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Olden Speaks to NCSU Grads
By Eddy Ball
In his commencement address on May 12 at Raleigh's RBC Center, Director Emeritus Ken Olden, Ph.D., encouraged recipients of over 4,000 North Carolina State University (NCSU) degrees to pursue collaborative partnerships as they "reach out to others in your community and around the globe." In recognition of his accomplishments as a scientist and leader, Olden received an honorary Doctor of Sciences degree from the University.
"Success is almost always a collaborative effort," Olden observed as he attributed much of his success as NIEHS and National Toxicology Program Director from 1991 to 2005 to the "collaborative leadership, strategic partnerships and team work" he fostered during his tenure. He also underscored the importance of promoting inclusiveness and encouraging people with an interest in an issue to participate in "coalitions or alliances so that all stakeholders can be winners."
Olden, who now serves as chief of the Metastasis Section at NIEHS, observed that most academic training - his own, as well as his audience's - does not prepare students for the "relationship building and relationship management... [that] prove to be just as important as disciplinary competence." He then offered examples of pivotal times when such skills made the difference between success and failure.
The successes of the new coalition government in Northern Ireland and the creation of the Research Triangle Park, he explained, reflected the "ability [of individuals in coalitions] to set aside narrow self-interests to achieve the broader goal." In contrast, the Clinton Administration healthcare reform effort was rejected by the American people, he said, because it was developed "without input from important stakeholders and ordinary citizens."
Among other pressing developments, Olden pointed to the issues of globalization and energy use as complex and systemic problems the new graduates will face in their professional lives. "Many of the challenges that we now face as a society cannot be solved without partners," he maintained. "Human progress is inherently a cooperative enterprise."
After challenging the graduates to advance a shared agenda, Olden closed by wishing his audience peace of mind, a strong and loving family, caring friends and the satisfaction of accomplishing something important.