NSF EHR Advisory Committee Considers Racial Equity in STEM Education, Future of NSF at Fall Meeting
NSF EHR Advisory Committee Considers Racial Equity in STEM Education, Future of NSF at Fall Meeting
 
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November  2020

On October 28–29, the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Education and Human Resources (EHR) Advisory Committee held its fall meeting with a full agenda focusing on efforts to promote racial equity in STEM education and an examination of future priorities of EHR as part of the next iteration of the NSF strategic plan and in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Karen Marrongelle, assistant director for EHR, provided an overview of the directorate’s activities, including an update on EHR grants focusing on the impact of COVID-19 on STEM education; investments through the EHR Core Research program; and broadening participation in the STEM disciplines through the NSF INCLUDES initiative. Marrongelle also reflected on questions regarding the return on investment in improving STEM educational outcomes. She noted that the commitment to, and responsibility for, making educational improvements should rest with institutions, not individuals, and requires acting with intentionality.”

Steve Meacham, section head of integrative activities with the NSF Office of Integrative Activities, described recent work by NSF’s COVID Recovery Planning Task Force in supporting the agency’s response to the current pandemic and in preparing for future pandemics. Program officers from each division within EHR provided examples of NSF RAPID grants for examining issues in STEM education that intersect with COVID-19, including equity in remote learning, the experiences of high school students and interest in STEM, and stress and trauma experienced by graduate students. Kim Barrett, director of the EHR Division of Graduate Education, updated committee members on the EHR post-COVID-19 working group, which recommended three areas of research investment: new tools for learning in online settings, assessment of learning, and impacts of COVID-19 on students and academic institutions.

Advisory Committee members also heard from Black STEM educators who are working to increase engagement of Black students in STEM, in a discussion led by EHR Advisory Committee chair Marilyn Strutchens. Melissa Collins, a second-grade teacher in Shelby County, Tennessee, discussed the use of real-life examples in teaching STEM and bringing scientists of color to her school so students can see people who look like them in the field. Christopher Jett, associate professor of mathematics education at the University of West Georgia, noted the need for mentoring during the transition from undergraduate to graduate education, as well as the need for mental health services. Juan Gilbert, Andrew Banks Family Preeminence Endowed Professor and chair of the Computer & Information Science & Engineering Department at the University of Florida, detailed his efforts to increase diversity within computer science, noting, “Broadening participation is not rocket science, it’s harder.”

Okhee Lee, member of the EHR Advisory Committee, professor of childhood education at New York University, and member of AERA Council, detailed the work of the EHR’s Broadening Participation Working Group and some initial findings of a review of EHR CAREER grants. The final review will include an analysis of CAREER grants by race and ethnicity, as well as productivity metrics such as those for NSF awardees after the end of their CAREER grants and resulting publications.

Committee members heard from Amanda Greenwell, head of the NSF Office of Legislative and Public Affairs (OLPA), on OLPA’s reorganization and communication efforts over the past year, including communications about the NSF 70th anniversary symposium and related toolkit, dissemination of NSF stories, and innovative promotions of research on social media channels and Instagram. Sylvia James, deputy assistant director of EHR, provided an overview of the process for input on the forthcoming update of the NSF-wide strategic plan, which will cover 2022–26. NSF is seeking comments on key elements of the current plan—vision, core values, strategic goals, and strategic objectives. Other areas where feedback is requested include interests, values, and emergent science and policy issues; how NSF can help maintain U.S. leadership in an evolving global research and education landscape; and the importance of fundamental research and where it is no longer relevant. Additional outreach to the scientific community is planned later this year.

Finally, the new NSF director, Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, met with the EHR Advisory Committee for the first time since starting in the role in June. He outlined his vision for NSF and highlighted three pillars of its success: advancing future frontiers of research, accessibility and inclusivity, and global leadership. He also discussed the role of partnerships as key to innovation at NSF and indicated the need to grow STEM talent.

The Advisory Committee also welcomed a new member, Megan Bang, professor of learning sciences and psychology at Northwestern University and senior vice president at the Spencer Foundation. Committee members thanked two members who were rotating off the committee: Catherine Casserly, strategist, and Rory Cooper, FISA & Paralyzed Veterans of America Professor and Distinguished Professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology, and professor of bioengineering, mechanical engineering, physical medicine and rehab, and orthopedic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh.

The spring Advisory Committee meeting will take place on May 26–27, 2021.

 
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