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June 20, 2015



While providing an overall increase for NASA, Senate appropriators cut the Aeronautics account by $126 million (compared to current spending) and proposed $600 million for space technology -- barely more than in FY 2015. Priorities in the report of the Commerce, Justice, Science appopriations subcommittee include fitting drones safely into the National Airspace System -- a "national priority." The panel says NASA "plays a critical role in the NAS," and insstructs the agency to coordinate with the Federal Aviation Administration [FAA], which has designated six sites for research into drone safety.

HEIGHTENED EMPHASIS ON HBCUs: Evidently frustrated with the continued under-representation of African Americans in STEM, appropriators instruct the National Science Foundation to set aside up to $10 million for research investment at public and private historically black colleges and universities. The agency must also describe "existing research on transformative learning and professional development approaches," particularly with respect to  "undergraduate programs at urban universities and HCBUs." In addition, "the Committee is concerned that of the over 577 [Innovation] Iā€“Corps team, site, and node awards to date, only six have been made to HBCUs."

METALS AND MANUFACTURING: The Appropriations Committee "remains concerned" about steel production and supports continued research by NSF's Industrial Innovation and Partnerships program into the steel industry. The agency's Advanced Manufacturing initiative is urged to include $15,000,000 "for research in biomanufacturing." To advance commercialization, tech transfer organizations should be allowed to apply for grants as principal investigators, the committee says.

CYBERNOMICS: Senate appropriators -- in particular, perhaps, ranking Democrat Barbara Mikulski of Maryland -- see economic growth potential in the money being poured into cybersecurity research. The panel says it's encouraged by work performed by the National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence, headquartered in Maryland, which "is quickly becoming a premiere partnership through which the Federal Government, industry, and academia collaborate." Senators recommend that the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which runs the center, "continue to work in concert with its public, State, and county partners to encourage co-location of companies involved in NCCoE activities."

ADDED SCRUTINY: The Senate Appropriations Committee "is concerned by recent news reports suggesting that certain NSF grant and cooperative agreement recipients have used management fees inappropriately by spending federally awarded funds on, for example, lobbying, alcohol, and entertainment." In the House, meanwhile, an upcoming hearing before two Science Committee panels is headlined: "Is NSF Properly Managing Its Rotating Staff?" Inspector General Allison Lerner will testify.


Doctorate recipients in low participation fields (engineering, physical sciences, mathematics and
statistics, computer science), by sex and race/ethnicity: 1993 to 2013

Source: The Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering Biennial Report to Congress 2013-14

Source: Graphic by Forbes, Statista, with data from World Economic Forum 2015/UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Note: Data for China and India were not available.


'MINIMAL' CUMULATIVE IMPACT: One way or another, the National Science Foundation spends at least $600 million annually on broadening participation, according to a new report by the Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering (CEOSE). "These commendable efforts have had positive impacts on the participation of women, African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and persons with disabilities, but . . .  the cumulative impact on the representation of these groups has been minimal." The report further notes that of "all principal investigators in FY 2013, women were less than one-fourth; African Americans, Hispanics, and American Indians combined were less than 6%; and persons with disabilities were only 1%." The report to Congress offers specific proposals for new steps NSF should take. It concludes that "the challenge of broadening participation in STEM is not NSF’s challenge alone. However, it is NSF’s responsibility to provide the intellectual and scientific leadership if we are to develop a truly inclusive STEM enterprise . . . ."

DOE FUNDS 43 UNIVERSITIES FOR NUCLEAR R&D: The Department of Energy has awarded "approximately $31 million for 43 university-led nuclear energy research and development projects, approximately $13 million for 4 Integrated Research Projects, and 9 infrastructure support awards." Also, "the Department has competitively selected and will fully fund the cost of access to [Nuclear Science User Facilities] capabilities to support three university-led and one national laboratory-led projects that will investigate important nuclear fuel and material applications." See the awards. (Thanks to ASME for drawing our attention to this.)


NOT COUNTED: A National Academies report examing team science notes that "the extent to which researchers are rewarded for team-based research varies widely across and within universities. Where team-based research is not rewarded, young faculty may be discouraged from joining those projects." Principles and criteria should be developed for promotion and tenure. Funding agencies, as well, are inconsistent and "often include vague language about the type of collaboration and the level of knowledge integration they seek in proposed research."


ASEE's Diversity Committee is offering cash prizes for the top three submissions by undergraduates and grad students: "We are asking for a video or essay from current engineering and engineering technology students sharing a story related to any type of diversity (e.g., age, belief system, disability status, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, race, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, and any other visible or non-visible differences)." The competition ends July 1, 2015! For more information, check out: http://diversity.asee.org/essay-contest.