New funding for research experiences at two-year colleges

Image: iStock

The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently announced that it is offering new funding for novel undergraduate resource experiences at two-year colleges.

The “Dear Colleague Letter” from NSF’s Directorate for Education and Human Resources invites current principal investigators of Advanced Technological Education (ATE) projects and centers to submit requests for supplemental funding to support undergraduate research experiences (UREs) that promote workforce preparation for students at two-year institutions. Most ATE principal investigators are two-year college faculty. 

The high value that NSF leaders place on UREs was evident at the Community College URE Summit that the American Association of Community Colleges convened in November with NSF support. The summit was designed to highlight community college leadership in STEM and raise awareness of innovative UREs as an effective strategy for career skills development, student retention and academic success.

“Undergraduate research experiences build workforce skills … (like) critical thinking, troubleshooting, working in teams, collaboration,” Celeste Carter, lead program director of the ATE program, said at the summit.

The meeting brought together 120 thought leaders to discuss the role of community colleges in building, implementing and sustaining UREs. A report on the proceedings, along with recommendations for starting, scaling and sustaining UREs at two-year colleges, will be released in early April. The many resources collected for the summit and the notes of the small working groups’ discussions are available here.

The summit and the Dear Colleague Letter both broadly define UREs as “experiences developed using the scientific method and/or engineering design processes to promote student learning by solving a problem and proposing workable solutions.” UREs eligible for ATE support include:

  • course-based UREs
  • traditional independent undergraduate student research experiences
  • problem-based learning
  • case-based learning
  • independent studies
  • capstone projects
  • employer-based research such as internships and co-ops
  • hackathons
  • STEM design challenges
  • STEM competitions

The new supplemental ATE grants may be used to support all levels of URE development from the idea phase to well-established program implementation. 

“All projects must include evaluation and analysis of how UREs promote development of students’ work skills and career outcomes,” according to the Dear Colleague Letter. 

Interested ATE principal investigators are encouraged to initiate a conversation with their NSF program directors about their ideas for ATE-URE funding. 

ATE-URE supplemental funding proposals may be for up to 20 percent of an existing ATE award. They are due May 15. Funded activities must start before December 31.

About the Author

Madeline Patton
is an education writer based in Ohio.