Mary L. Good: Science Should Be Pillar of Public Policy

Mary Good traces her interest in the sciences back to high school, when she built what she described as a "very crude" darkroom for enlarging photos.

While attending the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, a freshman chemistry course taught by an inspiring professor piqued her interests further, and she decided to major in the study. She went on to earn a master's degree and a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

From those beginnings, Good ­went on to earn dozens of prestigious accolades and honorary degrees - far too many to list all of them here. She has led some of the top science organizations in the country in government and the private sector.

Good is the founding dean of the George W. Donaghey College of Engineering & Information Technology at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. The Donaghey College hosted former President Bill Clinton as keynote speaker at the ceremony celebrating its 10th anniversary in November.

For 25 years, Good taught at the University of New Orleans and also at the New Orleans campus of Louisiana State University.

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed her to the National Science Board, the organization that governs the National Science Foundation and advises the White House and Congress on science policy.

"That was really a very good experience," she said. "I enjoyed it very much."

From 1982 to 1984, she served as vice chair of the organization, and from 1988 to 1991, she chaired the board.

In 1991, President George H.W. Bush appointed Good to the President's Council of Advisors on Science & Technology, and in 1993, Clinton named her Undersecretary for Technology in the U.S. Department of Commerce & Technology.

"It was really a stimulating assignment," she said of the undersecretary post.

"[It was] pretty demanding, in the sense that we had a lot of small companies come and try to get information about how to meet regulations for products they were trying to sell.

"It was really a very interesting position in that you dealt with all kinds of things. And the National Institute of Standards & Technology reported to that undersecretary, so you got an opportunity to interact with what is probably the best laboratory in the federal government," Good said.

In addition to government positions, Good has also been active on the private-sector side of the scientific community. From 1988 to 1993, she was senior vice president of technology for AlliedSignal Inc., according to the Acxiom Corp. Web site. Good is a member of the Acxiom board of directors. AlliedSignal had a history in oil and gas, aerospace and materials production. The company merged with Honeywell International Inc. in 1999.

Good said she believes science should be a major factor in determining public policy.

"I think it should be the foundation of public policy in many ways," she said, "because if you look at competition in the world today, that competition is essentially for new products, new manufacturing methodology, new health care venues, and all of that - the foundation for it - is science and technology and quality engineers."

It is very important for the United States to ensure that its scientists and engineers have adequate research resources so that they can continue to foster a competitive technology base and increase educational opportunities that will attract the best minds available, she said.

"Otherwise, we are not going to be competitive in the coming world, because countries like China and India are increasing their input in these areas every day," she said.

One way of doing that is to increase research and development investment, she said.

"And that is beginning to happen. The Obama administration has already made some funds available to the NSF and NIST, and also to the Department of Energy. But somehow we need to make those more permanent," she said.

"We need the people who do that work to feel like they're going to have access to those funds for a long time, because research is a continuous process and you don't do it all in one day."

Another important goal in ensuring a competitive edge in the global economy is interesting children in science.

"We've simply got to get them to the point where they understand that [science is an] exciting thing to do. And my own career would suggest that," she said.

"The biggest draw is that most of the people I know who have careers in science and technology or engineering, very rarely do they hate to go to work, because it's always, for the most part, interesting work. And so somehow, we need to get students to understand that although it takes a lot of work to get there, the self-satisfaction for a lifetime is wonderful."