NSF hands out $45M to encourage Hispanic STEM students

The National Science Foundation has awarded $45 million to 31 “Hispanic-serving institutions” for projects designed to increase the proportion of Hispanic students in STEM fields.

One NSF-funded initiative will train faculty members in "diversity, intercultural competence, and critical consciousness" and then conduct "a quantitative, quasi-experimental study" to gauge the effects.

The National Science Foundation is doling out $45 million to 31 “Hispanic-serving institutions” this year in hopes of increasing the number of Hispanic students in STEM fields.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is a federal agency created by Congress in 1950 “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense.”

“With an annual budget of $7.5 billion (FY 2017), we are the funding source for approximately 24 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities,” the NSF’s website explains. “In many fields such as mathematics, computer science, and the social sciences, NSF is the major source of federal backing.”

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This year, $45 million of that budget is being distributed through grants meant to bolster STEM research exclusively in “Hispanic-Serving Institutions” (HSI), with the goal of increasing the number of Hispanic students going into STEM. 

To qualify as an HSI, an institution must “have an enrollment of undergraduate full-time equivalent students that is at least 25 percent Hispanic students.”

”The HSI Program is aligned with NSF’s commitment to increase access for underrepresented groups to the Nation’s STEM enterprise,” the NSF asserts, noting in a related press release that “Hispanics constitute 16 percent of the U.S. workforce, but they make up only 6 percent of the U.S. science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce.”

“More than 60 percent of Hispanic students attend an HSI,” the press release adds, saying, “NSF’s HSI Program invests in projects that build capacity and increase retention and graduation rates for STEM students at HSIs.”

”The HSI Program seeks to enhance the quality of undergraduate STEM education at HSIs and to increase retention and graduation rates of undergraduate students pursuing degrees in STEM fields at HSIs,” the NSF explains. “In addition, the HSI Program seeks to build capacity at HSIs that typically do not receive high levels of NSF grant funding.”

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Among the HSI grants recipients is California State University, Sacramento, which was awarded $1.5 million for its project “STEM Faculty Professional Learning in the Zone of Proximal Development,” which aims to help faculty members “become aware of the roles of diversity, intercultural competence, and critical consciousness in the development and persistence of students, including those who are underrepresented in STEM.”

The initiative also includes “a quantitative, quasi-experimental study” that “will examine how faculty and students change because of STEM faculty participation in a learning program that is customized to their zone of proximal development.”

St. Peter’s University, meanwhile, will receive $1.4 million for its “STEM Transformative Experiences Project,” which seeks to “provide a deeper understanding of how to effectively support faculty and students in mentored STEM internships, particularly for students from groups that are underrepresented in science.”

Another $1.5 million will go toward “Infusing Research as Pedagogy” at Union County College in New Jersey, and Mount Saint Mary’s University will get $1.3 million for a project called “Building Capacity of Women in STEM.”

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