NSF Awards $50 Million To Create Five University-Led Alliances Promoting STEM Education for Underrepresented Groups – Forbes

The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced on Tuesday that it was investing $50 million to establish five new NSF INCLUDES Alliances. According to NSF, the purpose of INCLUDES is to “enhance preparation, increase participation and ensure the inclusion of individuals from historically underrepresented groups in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.”

One of NSF’s “Ten Big Ideas,” the new INCLUDES grants (Inclusion Across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science) extends NSF’s initial investments in a program that began with 70 pilot projects funded in 2016 and 2017.

Those projects were followed by eight large-scale NSF INCLUDES Alliances in 2018 and 2019, aimed at building the human infrastructure needed to accelerate STEM inclusion efforts. Today, the NSF INCLUDES National Network consists of more than 3,000 partners dedicated to broadening participation in STEM. More information about NSF INCLUDES can be found here.

“Creating pathways to success for a STEM workforce reflective of the U.S. population is of national importance to ensuring America’s competitiveness in a global research landscape,” said Sylvia Butterfield, acting assistant director for NSF’s Education and Human Resources Directorate, in the agency’s announcement of the new grants. “NSF INCLUDES Alliances provide a structure to address this issue and for the STEM enterprise to work collaboratively to achieve inclusive change.”

The Alliances will build partnerships involving public, private and academic sectors; share best practices for broadening participation; contribute to knowledge about how to broaden participation in STEM; and establish a framework for supporting communications and networking among partners.

The five new Alliances are:

African Americans, American Indians/Alaska Natives, and Latinos constitute a bit more than 30% percent of the U.S. population, and by 2050, they are expected to comprise more than 40% of the population. However, these groups – along with women, people from low-income backgrounds and those with disabilities – remain underrepresented in most STEM fields.

Those are gaps that higher education and the private sector have been trying to close with an almost countless number of special institutes, camps, scholarships, internships, mentoring programs, and revised curricula. Even with some measurable progress over the past few decades, those gaps remain a challenge the nation has yet to resolve fully. The new NSF Alliances could be a step in the right direction, particularly if they provide the scale that’s been missing in so many prior well-intentioned efforts.