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Education - An Overview of NSF Research
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Photo, caption follows:

Recipients of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching. The award is America's highest honor that is presented to kindergarten to twelfth-grade mathematics or science teachers.
Credit: White House photo by Tina Hager

 

How Do We Attract and Retain Outstanding Teachers and Education Leaders?
Considerable evidence indicates that to interest students in science and math, earlier is better. And, hands-on experiences are important in motivating students to pursue higher learning and continue in those disciplines as they make career choices. Evidence also points to a lack of motivation among young women to enter many fields of science, mathematics, engineering and technology although they perform academically as well or better than their male counterparts.

To respond to national needs for a diverse workforce in academic, professional and technical fields (including teachers), NSF provides major funding support for students to pursue such careers, and to encourage programs for gender equity and minority participation.

NSF's Gender Equity program has been geared toward meeting the goals of the 1981 Equal Opportunity for Women and Minorities in Science and Technology Act. Overall, NSF investments have significantly improved participation of women and minorities in many key fields and expanded the undergraduate and graduate level student pipeline so more are entering careers in science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

Gender equity programs have provided informal science venues for young women to experience hands-on learning in many forms and to overcome psychological obstacles when it comes to "performing with the boys." One evaluation project, Operation Smart, found that girls like "getting messy" as part of learning science. They also like the aesthetics of math, science and technology, and direct involvement and communication is more important to girls than demonstrations or Internet learning.

NSF's Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program has now produced more than 25,000 minority baccalaureates in science, mathematics, engineering and technology. A new component of the program, the Bridge to the Doctorate initiative, will provide support to selected students who have received bachelor's degrees through LSAMP to pursue graduate study.

The Research Experiences for Undergraduates Sites program allows college students to experience "doing science" as they evaluate potential careers. At the University of Maryland, students carry out summer research in different physical science and engineering (S&E) topics. The program has drawn many underrepresented minority women from the university's Research Internships in Science and Engineering program, separately funded by NSF's Gender Equity program. Entrance of program participants into the workforce will help address the nationwide need to increase participation among underrepresented groups in S&E fields.

NSF supports the overall health of the academic and professional workforce in other ways. Its longest-running effort is the Graduate Research Fellowship program, started in 1952. This, and the more recent Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) program, develops a cadre of future researchers and Ph.D.-level industry professionals who may contribute to a variety of disciplinary areas important to the nation.

An IGERT program at Drexel University, in conjunction with the University of Pennsylvania, is graduating a new generation of Ph.D.s. trained in nanofibers and their manufacture. The schools have implemented a nanotechnology certificate program in which students gain a solid disciplinary background and technical qualifications to aid them in academic or industrial careers.

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