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Engineering Education and Centers

Elliot P. Douglas, (703) 292-7051
Room 585

PIs without engineering education research or other social science research experience should consider applying to the Research Initiation in Engineering Formation solicitation (NSF 17-514),, rather than Research in the Formation of Engineers. PIs can contact a cognizant program officer to discuss which program is more appropriate.

It is recommended that all PIs contact a cognizant program officer before submission, especially for proposals with a total budget over $350,000.


Apply to PD 15-1340 as follows:

For full proposals submitted via FastLane: standard NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide proposal preparation guidelines apply.
For full proposals submitted via NSF Application Guide: A Guide for the Preparation and Submission of NSF Applications via Guidelines applies. (Note: The NSF Application Guide is available on the website and on the NSF website at:

Important Information for Proposers

A revised version of the NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG) (NSF 17-1), is effective for proposals submitted, or due, on or after January 30, 2017. Please be advised that, depending on the specified due date, the guidelines contained in NSF 17-1 may apply to proposals submitted in response to this funding opportunity.

Full Proposal Deadline Date

    Wed Sep 20 00:00:00 EDT 2017

    Third Wednesday in September, Annually Thereafter

        Full proposal submisison deadline. Next deadline in January.

    Wed Jan 24 00:00:00 EST 2018

    Fourth Wednesday in January, Annually Thereafter

        Full proposal submisison deadline. Next deadline in September.

Full proposals are due by the stated deadline.  Proposals received after the deadline may be reviewed in the next review panel, which can incur delays in proposal review and processing.


The NSF Engineering (ENG) Directorate has launched a multi-year initiative, the Professional Formation of Engineers, to create and support an innovative and inclusive engineering profession for the 21st Century. Professional Formation of Engineers (PFE) refers to the formal and informal processes and value systems by which people become engineers. It also includes the ethical responsibility of practicing engineers to sustain and grow the profession in order to improve quality of life for all peoples. The engineering profession must be responsive to national priorities, grand challenges, and dynamic workforce needs; it must be equally open and accessible to all.


According to Michel Fabre, “To form is more ontological than to instruct or educate, for one’s entire being is at stake” (trans. G. Downey).[i]  Processes of formation should be holistic and carefully attend to how knowledge and personhood interrelate in the larger context of one’s life.[ii]


Professional Formation includes, but is not limited, to:


  • Introductions to the profession at any age;
  • Acquisition of deep technical and professional skills, knowledge, and abilities in both formal and informal settings/domains;
  • Development of outlooks, perspectives, ways of thinking, knowing, and doing;
  • Development of identity as an engineer and its intersection with other identities; and
  • Acculturation to the profession, its standards, and norms.


As part of this initiative, the Research in the Formation of Engineers (RFE) program welcomes proposals that consider the construction of engineering knowledge, engineering identity, and the engineering profession, as well as interventions that expand the boundaries of each of these.


Ultimately RFE aims to transform the engineering formation system, and thus the impact of proposed projects on this system must be described. PIs should provide a roadmap detailing how they envision the proposed research will eventually broadly impact practice within the engineering formation system, even if these activities are not within the scope of the submitted proposal.


Engineering formation activities serve societal needs by supporting an innovative and inclusive engineering profession for the 21st Century.  Challenges facing the engineering profession require new ideas about how to reshape processes of professional formation in multiple areas, including:


1.     Advancing holistic engineering formation.The US labor market requires sufficient numbers of talented and well educated US engineers with outlooks, perspectives, and ways of thinking, knowing, and doing appropriate for professional practice across economic sectors. These include not only technical competence but also twenty-first century skills, “T-shaped” skills, critical thinking, creativity, intercultural competencies, entrepreneurship, and mindsets supporting sustainability. These competencies relate to several ABET-identified learning outcomes, including abilities to analyze social context in both historical and contemporary settings; to communicate effectively in listening, speaking, writing, and visual representation; to engage effectively in diverse teams; to reflect and act ethically; to engage in lifelong learning; and to design in context.  Creating greater opportunities and preparation for engineers to engage interdisciplinary endeavors, especially in relation to complex sociotechnical systems (e.g., electric power grid; food-water-energy systems; telecommunications systems; machine learning and robotics; healthcare system; etc.) will enable the future workforce to adapt to changes in national priorities and emergent technologies.


2.     Diversifying pathways to and through engineering. Research projects that align with this theme explore how engineering programs can create alternative pathways for students with a broad range of backgrounds, interests, and experiences; investigate how informal or real world experiences germane to engineering-such as military service or being a "maker" - serve as pathways to engineering; identify engineering norms of knowing, thinking, and doing that reflect and perpetuate climates and cultures of inequality, including but not limited to normative masculinities, heteronormativities, whiteness, and able-bodiedness in the profession; develop effective strategies to reshape these norms in ways that increase opportunities for engineers from groups traditionally underrepresented in engineering, including those with disabilities, as well as engineers from underserved or non-traditional backgrounds; develop engineering identities and processes of acculturation to the profession that are compatible with intersecting non-normative identities;or investigate how to fundamentally restructure courses, curricula, or programs to substantially boost student success, especially for under-represented populations, including those with disabilities, and veterans. Research on approaches that lower barriers for students to transfer into or between engineering programs, from other majors or community colleges for example, is also sought.


3.     Exploring citizen engineering, credentialing and expertise. Research in this area explores how to build capacity within communities and the general public to make well-informed decisions about engineering priorities; develop processes for engineers and the public to collaboratively define, ideate, and implement creative solutions related to major sociotechnical challenges in society; explores the relation among credentialing, expertise, and formation of engineers, developing new methods to assess, credential, and accredit engineering formation;  characterizes how credentials are valued and interpreted in different settings; considers alternatives for obtaining professional credentials or expertise at manageable cost and time invested.


4.     Developing engineering-specific theories of how engineers are formed. Theories on development of engineering epistemologies and identities, and methodologies to characterize different aspects of professional formation processes at the level of individuals, groups, institutions, and in society at large.


5.     Understanding how change in engineering formation processes travels, translates, transfers, diffuses, and/or scales. This topic includes studies on how to improve the translation of engineering formation research to practice or scale innovations to have systemic impact. This topic also supports activities that inform engineering formation efforts and investments or spawn new research.


Competitive proposals advance understanding in engineering formation by grounding the proposed work in theory as well as relevant prior work. Proposals should clearly address why the proposed research fills gaps in existing knowledge and address how evaluation will inform the research effort and allow assessment of the project's impact and effectiveness.


RFE research projects should address the iterative cycle in which research questions that advance understanding are informed by practice and the results of research are, in turn, translated into practice. In other words, how will the research results travel, translate, transfer, or scale? Successful projects identify specific target audiences, effective communication channels, and novel partnerships to ensure effective propagation and scaling.


Proposals to build research capacity such as developing means to measure engineering thinking, doing, making, and knowing or proposals to build research networks or infrastructure will be considered. This program strongly discourages proposals that seek funding primarily to develop tools, curriculum, or laboratories, or that seek to implement classroom innovations that have already been shown to be effective in engineering. More information can be found in the program's Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), see link below.


The RFE program accepts a diverse range of project scales from small, exploratory projects to large scale investigations with a broad, systemic scope; project budgets should match the project scope. Small-scale, exploratory projects with high transformative potential are strongly encouraged. The estimated number of awarded proposals is based on a projected average funding level of approximately $100,000 per project per year. All PIs should discuss the budget of proposed projects with a cognizant program officer before submission.


[i] Michel Fabre, Penser la Formation. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1994.

[ii] Gary Downey, Professional Formation of Engineers, Keynote delivered at NSF EEC Engineering Education Awardees’ Meeting, September 29, 2014.


Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide, December 2014 (NSF 15-001)

IUSE/Professional Formation of Engineers: REvolutionizing engineering and computer science Departments
PFE: Research Initiation in Engineering Formation

Engineering Education Program Webinar Slides
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) for Engineering Education and Center's Research in the Formation of Engineers program

Professional Formation of Engineers

What Has Been Funded (Recent Awards Made Through This Program, with Abstracts)




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