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Olden Speaks to NCSU Grads

By Eddy Ball
June 2007

Wearing the hood symbolizing his honorary degree, Olden compared human social organizations to the body. "While each cell in the body has its own identity, individual cells function in concert with trillions of other cells as part of a complex organism." (Photo courtesy of Roger Winstead, director of photography at NCSU)

Ken Olden, Eduardo Catalano, Roger Milliken
On the stage with Olden were officials of the university and two other recipients of honorary degrees, architect Eduardo Catalano and businessman Roger Milliken. (Photo courtesy of Roger Winstead, director of photography at NCSU)

Ken Olden, Heather Olden, and Sandie White
Prior to the ceremony, Olden posed with his daughter Heather (left), a student at Hampton University, and his wife Sandie White, Ph.D., director of the Center For Science, Math and Technology Education at N. C. Central University. (Photo courtesy of Roger Winstead, director of photography at NCSU)

Ken Olden, and James Oblinger
NCSU Chancellor James Oblinger, Ph.D., presented Olden with an honorary Doctor of Science degree just before his address to the class of 2007. (Photo courtesy of Roger Winstead, director of photography at NCSU)

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.

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