ccDaily > NSF seeks more participation from community college faculty

NSF seeks more participation from community college faculty

Photo: Lake Area Technical Institute
(South Dakota)

​A meeting this summer between officials from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and community college leaders illustrates how important the federal agency views two-year colleges in preparing students for careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

In June, NSF and the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) convened the Broadening Impact: NSF Funded Projects at Two-Year Colleges Conference, which marked the first time NSF officials from all of the agency’s divisions and directorates held wide-ranging dialogues with several hundred community college educators who represented a variety of disciplines, technician preparation and transfer programs.  

A recent conference report​ summarizes small-group discussions about the challenges community college educators encounter when preparing NSF grant proposals, as well as community college educators’ suggestions for areas where NSF could broaden its support.

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 STEM professionals begin their postsecondary learning.

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The millions of women, minorities and low-income students who attend community colleges are another reason NSF leaders are focusing on the sector. The agency wants to build a STEM-literate workforce. Increasing the participation of populations that have historically been underrepresented in STEM fields is critical to achieving this goal. 

Engaging faculty

NSF leaders at the Broadening Impact conference and at last month’s meeting of the Advanced Technological Education Principal Investigators repeatedly expressed the hope that more community college faculty will participate in the agency’s competitive grant process as applicants and reviewers. They encouraged two-year college educators to read grant solicitations for programs that match their interests and to subscribe to NSF’s free e-mail service for updates on funding opportunities.

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Educators may also nominate themselves or colleagues as reviewers by sending a resume to directors of NSF programs that interests them.

Historically, three programs have been the main sources of NSF funding to community colleges: 

  • 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 received 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.

  • 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, bachelor’s or graduate degrees in STEM fields.

  • The 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.

Other grant opportunities

NSF officials also encourage community college faculty to submit proposals for several other programs, which may receive additional funding if Congress approves the agency's budget request for fiscal 2012. They include:

  • Discovery Research K-12 (DR K-12) enables significant advances in pre-K-12 student and teacher learning. Projects must: improve assessment; provide all students with opportunities; enhance teachers’ abilities; implement, scale and sustain innovations; or transform STEM learning using online materials.

  • 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.

  • 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. NSF is especially interested in robotics competitions and other initiatives to improve students’ STEM readiness.

  • The Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) aims to increase the number of students who successfully complete high-quality STEM degree programs. It emphasizes transformative strategies and experiences for student groups that have historically been underrepresented in STEM disciplines.

  • The Math Science Partnership Program (MSP) provides 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 math 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 people with disabilities and African-American, Hispanic and Native American communities.

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

  • 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. The program encourages partnerships with inner-city or other high-need schools that include underrepresented minorities, women and people with disabilities.

  • 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.

  • Research at Undergraduate Institutions (RUI) supports research by faculty at mostly undergraduate institutions with grants for individual and collaborative research projects.

  • Research Experiences for Veterans is a special effort to encourage post-9/11 military veterans to pursue engineering and science careers.

  • The Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program provides scholarships to encourage STEM majors and professionals to become K-12 science and math teachers.

  • Transforming STEM Learning (TSL) requires interdisciplinary teams of STEM experts and education specialists to conduct research on STEM education innovations.

  • Transforming Undergraduate Education in STEM (TUES) focuses on creating learning materials and strategies, implementing new instructional strategies, developing faculty expertise, assessing student achievement and conducting research.

  • Water Sustainability and Climate (WSC) seeks proposals that integrate biological sciences, geosciences, engineering and social sciences in studies of water systems to foster new approaches to water research.