Rows of students at benches in a science lab work with microscopes.

NSF’s Directorate of Education and Human Resources offers funding for STEM education projects

A teacher and a student in a science lab look at the measurement of liquid in a beaker.

With the deadline for the National Science Foundation’s Directorate of Education and Human Resources (EHR) core research program coming up on September 14, this post offers an overview of the directorate and includes some insights for applicants to EHR offered by EHR Program Director Karen King at the NSF Spring Grants Conference held in Louisville this past June.


EHR’s mission is to achieve excellence in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. Specific focal areas include STEM learning and learning environments, broadening participation, building institutional capacity in STEM, and STEM workforce development. EHR is interested in traditional, face-to-face education, as well as online learning, games, and virtual reality.

The upper end of the range of award figures tends to be higher in EHR than for other directorates and divisions in NSF. King says the reason is that EHR receives comparatively more collaborative proposals, which by definition involve more personnel, and personnel are the most expensive line item in most budgets.


Among the programs offered by EHR are the following:

EHR Core Research (ECR)

2017 submission deadline: September 14

This program of fundamental research in STEM education provides funding in critical research areas that are essential, broad and enduring. EHR seeks proposals that will help synthesize, build and/or expand research foundations in the following focal areas: STEM learning, STEM learning environments, STEM workforce development, and broadening participation in STEM.

King says EHR is seeing fewer and fewer ECR proposals focused on increasing participation by women. She says the NSF assumes this reflects a decreasing interest in this issue within the field.

Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)

Solicitation currently under revision, with no 2017 submission deadline released yet

This program, offered through the Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings (DRL), seeks to advance new approaches to and evidence-based understanding of the design and development of STEM learning opportunities for the public in informal environments; provide multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences; and advance innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments.

King says broadening participation is an area for emphasis in AISL. Of particular significance to Miami faculty, King indicated that among the groups that may qualify as underrepresented are first generation college students and/or those from low socioeconomic backgrounds. However, in such cases, the proposal must put forth a persuasive argument about how/why such groups are underrepresented within the context of the proposed project.

Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science (NSF INCLUDES)

2017 submission deadline has passed; no 2018 submission deadline released yet

Offered through the Division of Human Resource Development (HRD), this program is a comprehensive national initiative designed to enhance U.S. leadership in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) discoveries and innovations focused on NSF’s commitment to diversity, inclusion, and broadening participation in these fields. NSF INCLUDES supports efforts to create networked relationships among organizations whose goals include developing talent from all sectors of society to build the STEM workforce. This initiative seeks to improve collaborative efforts aimed at enhancing the preparation, increasing the participation, and ensuring the contributions of individuals from groups that have traditionally been underrepresented and underserved in the STEM enterprise: women, persons with disabilities, African Americans/Blacks, Hispanic Americans, American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, Native Pacific Islanders, and persons from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

King says the emphasis in INCLUDES is on scalable models. In FY2018, King says INCLUDES may fund a few alliances between several institutions working on the same “problem” for up to five years at $2.5 million per year.

National Innovation Network Teams Program (I-Corps Teams)

Proposals accepted at any time

The purpose of this program (which is not exclusive to EHR) is to  give a project team access to resources to help determine the readiness to transition technology developed by previously-funded or currently funded NSF projects. The outcomes of I-Corps Teams projects will be threefold: 1) a clear go /or no go decision regarding viability of products and services, 2) should the decision be to move the effort forward, a transition plan for those projects to move forward, and 3) a definition of a compelling technology demonstration for potential partners.

King describes I-Corps Teams as an entrepreneurship bootcamp for current NSF grantees.

Research Advanced by Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering (RAISE)

RAISE is a type of proposal, rather than a program, and is not exclusive to EHR. RAISE supports bold, interdisciplinary projects. Proposals, which are internally reviewed, may be up to $1 million and five years and require the approval of two different programs of NSF. Proposals must address how the project is better suited for RAISE than the standard NSF proposal.

King recommends a RAISE proposal to investigators who may have previously submitted to the INSPIRE program, which has been discontinued.

Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program

2017 submission deadline has passed; 2018 submission deadline: July 18

This Foundation-wide activity offers the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. Activities pursued by early-career faculty should build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research. NSF encourages submission of CAREER proposals from early-career faculty at all CAREER-eligible organizations and especially encourages women, members of underrepresented minority groups, and persons with disabilities to apply.

King reminds prospective CAREER applicants to review both the CAREER solicitation and the solicitation for the program that is a good fit for the project (e.g., ECR or AISL), and to address criteria for both solicitations in the proposal. She also suggests reviewing the CAREER program FAQs.

Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP)

2017 submission deadline: October 26

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based Master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited United States institutions. Awards are made according to application pressure, meaning that directorates/divisions that receive relatively more applications in comparison to other directorates/divisions will make relatively more awards.

King says that reference letters are critical for GRFP applicants, and recommends that prospective applicants have their referees review reference letter information on the program website. She says it’s especially important for applicants from underrepresented groups — from whom NSF is not receiving as many applications as they’d like — to understand the importance of reference letters. Backend data from the application system shows that many applications started by students from underrepresented groups remain incomplete at the time of the submission deadline, often because a reference letter (or two or three) hasn’t been submitted.

Written by Heather Beattey Johnston, Associate Director of Research Communications, Office for the Advancement of Research and Scholarship, Miami University.

Photos by Scott Kissell and Jeff Sabo, Miami University Photo Services.


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