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NSF funding opportunities available to community colleges


Research Experiences for Veterans, a special effort to encourage post-9/11 military veterans to pursue engineering and science careers, is just one example of the National Science Foundation’s funding opportunities available to community college faculty and students.

NSF has long recognized community colleges as both the nation’s leading source of technician education and as the higher education institutions where many engineers, scientists, teachers and other professionals in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) begin their postsecondary learning. NSF studies have found that almost half of science and engineering graduates with bachelor’s degrees attended a community college. 

The millions of women, students of color, and low-income students who attend community colleges also add to NSF leaders’ interest in the sector because the agency’s mission includes increasing the participation of populations that have historically been underrepresented in STEM fields.

About 64 percent of the $350 million in NSF funding currently awarded to community colleges is through the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program. Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (S-STEM) receive 24 percent of the NSF dollars allocated to community colleges. Ten percent supports Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Talent Expansion (STEP) programs at community colleges. The balance is spread among many other NSF programs. 

The Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program focuses on preparing technicians for careers in high-tech fields that drive the nation’s economy. Grants support technician education and faculty professional development. A portion of ATE funds is available for colleges that have not had grants in the past 10 years; these grants provide $200,000 for up to three years. Larger grants are available for projects, centers and targeted research. (Proposals are due Oct. 20.)

The Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (S-STEM) program awards grants to institutions to provide scholarships to academically talented, low-income students who are pursuing associate, baccalaureate or graduate degrees in STEM fields. (Optional letters of intent are due July 13; proposals due Aug. 11.)

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Talent Expansion (STEP) seeks to increase the number of students in STEM by supporting programs at undergraduate institutions that improve the quality of student learning with new pedagogical approaches or innovative student support services. (Proposals are due Sept. 27.)

NSF leaders at the Broadening Impact: NSF-Funded Projects at Two-Year Colleges Conference said they hope to expand community college participation beyond these three programs. They encouraged community college educators to search the NSF website thoroughly for funding opportunities and to sign up for the NSF’s free e-mail subscription service that will alert them to funding opportunities.

Lesser-known funding programs

Program directors also suggested two-year college educators consider submitting proposals for the following programs:

  • Discovery Research K-12 (DR K-12) enables significant advances in preK-12 student and teacher learning. Projects must do one or more of the following: improve assessment; provide all students with opportunities; enhance teachers’ abilities; implement, scale and sustain innovations; or transform STEM learning through cyber-enhanced materials. (The proposal deadline was Jan. 6, 2011.)

  • Geoscience Education (GeoEd) aims to improve all levels of geoscience education. It supports efforts to increase the number and improve the competency of K-12 teachers, demonstrate the relevance of geoscience careers, increase enrollments, and raise public awareness of geoscience. (Proposals are due Oct. 12.)

  • The Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program supports the development, implementation, testing, and scaling of  programs that add breadth and depth to the skills of the STEM workforce. ITEST projects must include students and may include K-12 teachers. Robotics competitions and other initiatives to improve students’ readiness for STEM disciplines are of particular interest. (The proposal deadline was May 13, 2011.)

  • The Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program supports efforts to increase the number of students who successfully complete high-quality degree programs in STEM disciplines. The program emphasizes transformative strategies and experiences for student groups that have historically been underrepresented in STEM disciplines. These groups include African Americans, Alaskan Natives, Native Americans, Hispanic Americans and Native Pacific Islanders. (Proposals are due Oct. 7.) 

  • The Math Science Partnership Program (MSP) awards grants to teams of educators (from community colleges, universities, and K-12 school systems) and community partners to improve K-12 students’ preparation for and participation in advanced mathematics and science courses. The program also supports math and science teacher preparation improvements.

  • Opportunities for Enhancing Diversity in the Geosciences (OEDG) seeks to increase participation of underrepresented groups in geoscience education and careers. Its projects also aim to increase awareness of geoscience among persons with disabilities and African American, Hispanic and Native American communities. (Proposals are due Oct. 5, 2011.) 

  • Partnerships for International Research and Education (PIRE) will focus on science, engineering, and Education for sustainability (SEES) during fiscal years 2011 and 2012. The program endeavors to build strong research and education partnerships with foreign collaborators that promote research excellence, provide strong well-mentored international research experiences for U.S. students, and foster the internationalization of U.S. institutions in science and engineering. (Proposal deadlines pending new proposal solicitation.)

  • Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) help build long-term collaborative partnerships among K-12 STEM teachers, community college faculty, and the NSF university research community. Projects involve teachers and community college faculty in engineering and computer science research and help them translate their research experiences into classroom activities. Partnerships with inner-city or other high-need schools are encouraged, as is participation by underrepresented minorities, women and persons with disabilities. (Proposals are due Oct. 3.)

  • Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU)) involve students in ongoing research either at REU sites based on independent proposals or as supplements to ongoing NSF-funded research.  The award pays a stipend and living expenses for students to engage in research, usually during the summer. (Proposals are due Aug. 24. Proposals requiring access to Antarctica are due June 1, 2012.)

  • Research at Undergraduate Institutions (RUI) supports research by faculty at predominantly undergraduate institutions with grants for individual and collaborative research projects, the purchase of shared-use research instrumentation, and Research Opportunity Awards for work with NSF-supported investigators at other institutions. (Full proposals are accepted any time.)

  • The Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program provides scholarships to encourage talented STEM majors and professionals to become K-12 science and math teachers. (The proposal deadline was March 23, 2011.)  

  • Transforming STEM Learning (TSL) is a cross-program solicitation that requires interdisciplinary teams of STEM experts and education specialists to conduct research on promising STEM education innovations or to pursue “bold experiments that challenge traditional patterns of STEM education.” (Proposals are due March 9, 2012.)

  • Transforming Undergraduate Education in STEM (TUES) has replaced the Course Curriculum and Laboratory Improvement (CCLI) program. To generate innovative STEM education developments, TUES focuses on creating learning materials and strategies, implementing new instructional strategies, developing faculty expertise, assessing student achievement and conducting research. (There are multiple 2012 proposal deadlines depending on the type of project.)

  • Water Sustainability and Climate (WSC) seeks proposals that integrate the biological sciences, geosciences, engineering and social sciences in studies of water systems to enable new interdisciplinary paradigms in water research. (Proposals are due Oct. 11.)