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National Science Foundation Supports STEM Education 

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By Cynthia D. Miller 

Since its creation as an independent agency in 1950, the National Science Foundation has focused on promoting science, health and national defense. With an annual budget of about $7 billion, NSF funds approximately 20 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by U.S. colleges and universities. In many fields such as mathematics, computer science and the social sciences, NSF is a major source of federal backing.

Of equal importance to the foundation is the support of science and engineering education, from pre-kindergarten through graduate school and beyond, with a variety of fellowships and programs specifically for teachers and students.  

Among them is the Math and Science Partnership program, which awards competitive, merit-based grants to colleges and universities that partner with K-12 school systems, non-governmental organizations and corporations. The partnerships develop and implement programs to advance mathematics and science education and cultivate a more prepared work force.

The program serves students, educators and employers by building a grassroots infrastructure that promotes collaboration at all levels. Its grants support projects that enhance STEM curricula, increase the number, quality and diversity of math and science teachers, and provide opportunities for professional scientists, mathematicians and engineers to work with K-12 students and educators. The program’s goal is to shed light on how students learn science and math. It offers development opportunities for teachers so they can create the highest caliber of professionals needed by U.S. employers.

Focused on supporting the research efforts of graduate students, NSF’s Graduate STEM Fellows in K-12 Education and Center for Learning and Teaching programs provide one to five years of funding for students to bring their research into the K-12 setting. The goal of these programs is to energize and prepare U.S. graduate students for a broad range of STEM careers in a competitive, globalized marketplace.  

Karen McNeal participated in both programs, which helped fund her research through the completion of her dissertation.

“While participating in these programs, I worked with teachers from different kinds of schools and education researchers and scientists from an array of fields, and finally spent time with at-risk students while teaching science and math in their classroom,” she said.

Now a professor at Mississippi State University, she has started her own NSF-funded Graduate K-12 project. She has received additional funding for her current work in bio-geochemistry and geosciences education research, and teaches other graduate students about science, education research, teaching practices and communication.  

Another intersection between NSF and K-12 education is the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship. It invites K–12 and college teachers with at least five years of classroom experience to take a one-year leave of absence to work at NSF in Washington, D.C. There they offer their real-world perspectives to policy makers and education program managers in Congress or other branches of the federal government.

In addition to Congress and NSF, previous fellows have served at the Departments of Energy, Defense, NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Applicants are judged on their teaching skills, their involvement and leadership in their chosen field and their knowledge of local, state and federal education policies. If selected, each fellow moves to the capital to serve an 11-month term during which they are paid a monthly stipend with cost of living and relocation allowances.

Teachers applying for the Albert Einstein Fellowship can do so online at www.einsteinfellows.org between October and January each year. For more information on the STEM Fellows in K-12 Education and Center for Learning and Teaching programs, go to www.nsf.gov. For the Math and Science Partnership program, go to www.mspnet.org.

Cynthia D. Miller is president of Miller.Omni.Media Inc., a woman-owned small business specializing in strategic communications, marketing and media production. She can be reached at cmiller@milleromnimedia.com.


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