July 30, 2020
The National Science Board (NSB) met on Wednesday, July 29th, the first meeting since Dr. Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan was sworn in as the NSF Director earlier this month. The agenda included a presentation and panel on Black experiences in science and engineering, and how NSF might be able to improve these experiences through funding and specialized programs.
Dr. Claudia Rankins, a Program Officer in the NSF Directorate for Education and Human Resources (EHR) as well as in HBCU-UP, an NSF program dedicated to the advancement of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) started the meeting with a presentation. Dr. Rankins noted that while enrollment in HBCUs has increased in the last fifty years (nine percent of African American students receive their undergraduate degrees from these institutions), funding for these colleges and universities has been “anemic”, with NSF’s annual $100 million endowment for HBCUs mostly going to the same twenty institutions. Additionally, many of these institutions, such as Harris-Stowe State University, had no STEM programs before receiving aid from one of NSF’s HBCU programs such as -UP, -RISE, or -EiR. Thus, Dr. Rankins recommended increased outreach and funding for these institutions to address the fact that “the systemic and historic underfunding of HBCUs is the source of many challenges.”
Dr. Victor R. McCrary, Jr., NSB Vice Chair, University of the District of Columbia moderated a panel discussion. Each panelist was asked: given the goal of doubling the number of Black people in science and engineering in the next 10 years, how can these fields be made more accessible to Black students? Dr. William M. Jackson pointed out that his institution, UC Davis, received twice as much funding as Howard University, despite being roughly the same size. He emphasized the importance of having more Black faculty at Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs) plus white faculty who are sensitive to the needs of the Black community. Next, Dr. Stephani Page of ADVANCE Resource and Coordination Network and Creator of #BlackAndSTEM spoke on the reality of having a “secondary career” of being Black while also holding down a job. She urged NSF to consider the psychological and sociological components of Black students’ experiences and to reject the idea that they must assimilate. Dr. Stephon Alexander, President of the National Society of Black Physicists and a professor at Brown University elaborated on successful programs at Brown and recommended NSF pursue similar programming. Dr. Eugene M. DeLoatch, who founded Morgan State’s Engineering program in 1984, encouraged people to see HBCU engineering programs as merely engineering programs like any other institution. Finally, Dr. Kelly Mack, VP for Undergraduate STEM Education and Executive Director of Project Kaleidoscope for the Association of American Colleges and Universities, warned against the use of “quick fix” solutions that don’t truly show a concern for racism. She shared a personal experience of being searched invasively by NSF security guards while her white colleague was allowed to pass. The meeting concluded with a round of questions and statements from NSF members.
Increasing STEM diversity and improving the experience of minority scientists is both a priority for FABBS societies and a focus of their research. FABBS’ journal Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences includes relevant articles such as “Leveraging Social Capital to Broaden Participation in STEM” (Saw, 2020), “Why Black Adolescents Are Vulnerable at School and How Schools Can Provide Opportunities to Belong to Fix It” (Gray et. al., 2020), and “Girls and Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics: STEMing the Tide and Broadening Participation in STEM Careers” (Dasgupta, et. al., 2014).
In other news, NSF recently released a Graduate Research Fellowships Program announcement that included some revisions of concern to the scientific community. Specifically, the announcement states: “Although NSF will continue to fund outstanding in all areas of science and engineering supported by NSF, in FY2021, GRFP will emphasize three high priority research areas in alignment with NSF goals. These areas are Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Information Science, and Computationally Intensive Research.” FABBS is working to determine how the change could impact applicants from our fields of science and encourages behavioral and brain researchers to apply for the GRFP.