Seattle — When former Sen. John Glenn joined the crew of the Discovery in 1998 and took his second flight into space—at the age of 77—he did so with one goal in mind: to foster the research necessary to improve knowledge. Glenn claims two firsts: being the first American to orbit the earth, and again 36 years later as the oldest American to do the same. His political career is no less illustrious. As a four-term senator from Ohio, Glenn’s passion for the acquisition and sharing of knowledge has become well known.

Glenn addressed more than 2,000 insurance carrier attendees and technology solution providers at the 80th annual Insurance Accounting & Systems Assoc. (IASA) Educational Conference and Business Show in Seattle yesterday that the organization’s conference slogan—2008: A Learning Odyssey—“is what it’s all about.”

IASA is the insurance industry's largest non-profit, volunteer-driven, education association whose mission is to enhance the knowledge of insurance industry professionals by facilitating the exchange of ideas and information. Its conference offers attendees CPE credits across a variety of subjects, Vendor Connect tours that provide attendees with the opportunity to fine-tune their technology interests, and a variety of professional networking opportunities.

The Ohio senator’s passion for research and education was palpable as the over-reaching focus of his speech. Telling the audience that education and research fosters the United States’ ability to be a preeminent power, he described the two elements as “the keys to our past and to our future,” warning that if we ignore their importance in both academia and in business, we risk “going down hill as a nation.”

“We are a junior country in terms of time, and our quest for knowledge—our ability to learn, share what we know, and use it to improve our lives—is made possible because of our focus and dedication to research, mathematics and science,” he said.

For example, Glenn asked the audience to consider the speed at which industries, including insurance, are using technology to compete successfully in global markets.
“Imagine how fast things are going,” he said. “The time between when the Wright brothers first took to the skies and our landing on the moon in 1969 was just 66 years. And our research on transistors has made it possible for 90% of us in this room to have cell phones in our pockets that are able to connect anywhere anytime with anyone in the world. It’s almost miraculous how far we have come.”

As another example, Glenn compared the technology in use today with that used back when he jettisoned the earth’s orbit the first time. “We had no computers on board 36 years ago because we were maintained by ground control, but on our second journey into space, the researchers used 28 different on-board laptops to record results of 45 different body parameters being studied.”

Ironically, he said, with the speed at which we are we progressing with technology, we still risk losing our position as a superpower by ignoring the importance of quality education, especially in the K-12 grades.

Glenn quoted the Third Annual International Math and Science study as a telling metric, which reported that children in earlier grades rank academically near the top of the scale, yet by the time the average student graduates from high school, they rank near the bottom. Chastising the current administration for cutting funding in both research and education, Glenn said, “Unfortunately, what was left behind in the federal No Child Left Behind program was the money to fund it.”

In the area of research, which has also experienced recent budget cuts, he asked the audience to consider the long-term effects on insurance, noting that research results can have a fundame tal and profound affect on the industry’s ability to be successful.

“When they sent me into space again, it was so I could participate in a series of research projects that studied the effects of aging,” he said.

Noting that there are 52 changes that take place in the human body when in space, for the elderly, those changes, such as a four- to five-day onset of osteoporosis, cardiovascular changes and protein turnover in muscle, are important to study for a variety of reasons.

“Although more research must be done, actuarial tables may change based on the results of these studies.”

Finally, congratulating IASA for being on track with its knowledge-share initiatives, Glenn told the audience, “It truly is a learning odyssey, and we can’t dominate without effort.”

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