No matter where you are in the STEM education world, it always seems like the National Science Foundation is just around the corner. Everyone knows that they support cutting edge scientific research, but since when have they been involved in STEM education? 

The first National Science Board in 1951

The short answer? About 70 years. 

NSF’s first Chairman James Conant highlighted education early

The National Science Foundation was established by Congress through the National Science Foundation Act of 1950 under Harry S. Truman. The foundation’s central function was “to develop and encourage the pursuit of a national policy for the promotion of basic research and education in the sciences.” Since that day in May, research and education were two sides of the same coin. 

In the NSF’s first annual report, Chairman James Conant wrote that there must be “an intensive effort to discover latent scientific talent and provide for its adequate development.” He wrote about assisting promising young college graduates in need of require postgraduate training. From there, the foundation could help foster the nation’s next leaders in science and engineering. 

Today, we know that we have to start much earlier than college graduates, but they were on the right track. 

In the 1971 Director’s Statement, William McElroy stressed that the NSF must emphasize curriculum development, teacher improvement, and student support. He wanted to focus more directly on multidisciplinary problems, including social and environmental ones, and training science educators as specialists within their own institutions. “By concentrating more of our resources for science education on these types of activities,” McElroy wrote, “we expect to sustain a high-quality science education program which will affect a wide range of students and teachers.” 

Director William McElroy devoted space in his formal statement to educators

At around the same time, the NSF took specific initiative to begin providing specific opportunities to historically black colleges and universities and broadening participation in underrepresented communities. Today, over 50 programs make up their broadening participation portfolio, with focus areas ranging from Kindergarten to Career. 

National Science Foundation funds more than 2,000 colleges, universities, K-12 school systems, businesses, informal science organizations, and other research organizations throughout the United States. About a quarter of federal support for academic research comes from the NSF. 

So how can the STEM education community find NSF support?  

Several initiatives are aligned with STEMx goals and aims within the Directorate for Education and Human Resources. Programs like ADVANCE focus on reaching women in STEM, while programs like Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) and NSF INCLUDES focus on a wider range of students and teachers. The Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program encourages STEM professionals to become K-12 teachers to inspire students in the classroom. Follow the links above for more information. 

Do you have any experience with NSF? Tell us about it in the comments below.  

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