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Photo of Kathie L. Olsen
Credit: Sam Kittner/kittner.com

Dr. Kathie L. Olsen
Deputy Director
Chief Operating Officer
National Science Foundation

"Shaping the Workforce: NSF Graduate Student Support"
Council of Graduate Schools Annual Meeting

Washington, DC

December 8, 2006

[Slide #1: Title Slide]
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Good morning, and thank you Debra for the kind introduction. Thank you also to CGS for organizing this panel and for the invitation to participate.

It is most fitting that your annual meeting brings us together on the anniversary of the awarding of the first Nobel prizes. The first medals were given during this week in 1901--some 105 years ago.

As we all know, Nobels are awarded to people making outstanding contributions in their field. CGS shares a similar reputation for its excellent work to advance graduate education. At NSF, we hold that reputation dearly.

In particular, the Council's reporting on graduate enrollment and degree trends helps to shape national education policy.

Every graduate dean, comprising your collective voice, deserves a special thank you for working on the front line of our national education enterprise.

[Slide #2: Science and Engineering (S&E) Education Trends]
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One of NSF's special responsibilities is to collect data and indicators on the status of the collective scientific and engineering enterprise. Let's start our conversation by looking at some education indicators from the latest volume of Science and Engineering Indicators 2006. (By the way, I recommend getting a copy if you don't have one.)

Over the last two decades, enrollment in U.S. colleges and universities has increased by about 25 percent from 12.6 million in 1983 to 15.7 million in 2002.

Yet, the percentage of freshman intending to study science and engineering, or S&E, has remained relatively flat. That is to say only one-third of our students are interested in studying S&E. NSF is working to develop programs to address this stagnant level of interest.

And, the proportion of S&E degrees conferred actually decreased slightly over the last 20 years, from 40 to 38 percent.

Lastly, among those graduating with S&E undergraduate degrees, the retention rate for those going into S&E graduate studies has declined. Moreover, those continuing to study S&E after the completion of a Master's degree decreased from 23 to 15 percent from 1995 to 2003.

[Slide #3: Researchers with Science/Engineering Degrees Practicing S&E]
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At the same time, the U.S. labor force is hungry for qualified scientists and engineers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that employment in traditional S&E occupations--like those seen here--will increase about 70% faster than the overall growth rate of all occupations.

[Slide #4: People with Science/Engineering Degrees in Non-S&E Careers]
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Additionally, jobs not typically classified as S&E will increasingly require some understanding of science and technology.

From 1993 to 2003, the number of S&E degree holders working in jobs not classified as S&E grew by two million. For example, my current job as NSF Deputy Director is not considered a traditional science and engineering job.

Increasingly, a scientist's place is in the White House, the State Department, and on Capitol Hill. Colin Powell was a geology major, for example. And who knew that Jimmy Carter was an engineer?

Encouraging S&E students to consider "untraditional" career options is now part of our broader responsibility. Pursuing a Ph.D. in science and engineering opens up the door to an incredible number of opportunities.

In essence, we might have to add strategic planning to the graduate student vocabulary. It's becoming more and more important for students to think about career paths while deciding about classes, research projects, or summer jobs.

We need a cadre of workers who can collaborate across interdisciplinary and international borders.

[Slide #5: Investing in America's Future (NSF Strategic Plan FY 2006-2011)]
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Part of NSF's mission is to educate an S&E workforce to meet changing times. This means being capable of quickly absorbing new knowledge, and adapting to new and advanced technologies.

To this end, NSF has named "learning" as one of the agency's four major investment priorities in its newly released strategic plan. I brought copies, too, because I'm a good bureaucrat, and we do that.

To implement this priority of "learning," NSF has more than 40 programs specifically designed to improve STEM education. Many of these are administered through NSF's Education and Human Resources Directorate.

[Slide #6: NSF Merit Review Criteria]
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Additionally, our merit review system requires that every research proposal be scored on its ability to integrate research and education. Each proposal is rated on both its scientific merit and its broader social impact.

We want cutting-edge research to ripple out into society, pique broader interest, and permeate the education process from learning to earning.

Graduate student support is one such broader impact. Almost 85 percent, or 23,000, of graduate students directly supported by NSF are performing research as part of research projects, centers, or facilities awards.

[Slide #7: NSF Graduate Education Programs]
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The other 15 percent of NSF-supported graduate students receive stipends or salaries through some of your favorite programs.

Collectively, these programs have a comprehensive reach--from training the individual to catalyzing institutional change, and from infusing classrooms with research to global networking. Let’s look at a quick synopsis of some.

[Slide #8: Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRF)]
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NSF Graduate Research Fellowships (GRF) support graduate students conducting science, engineering, math, or interdisciplinary research--the newest category which we added for this year's competition.

We received about 350 interdisciplinary proposals out of about 9,000 applications. We obviously have room for improvement in encouraging students to pursue interdisciplinary research.

The latest solicitation closed last month, and we expect to award 1,000 fellowships.
Awards are $40,500 annually for a maximum of three years. Stipends are currently $30,000 a year, and the cost of education allowance is $10,500 per year.

NSF has supported more than 40,000 GRF fellows since 1952. More than 20 former graduate research fellows have gone on to win Nobel Prizes. One of Google's co-founders, Sergey Brin, was supported by a GRF.

[Slide #9: Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeships (IGERT)]
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The Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program, or IGERT, supports the development of novel, interdisciplinary graduate education programs for Ph.D. students. Over 1,400 students are supported each year.

IGERT projects also include strategies for recruitment and retention; career development opportunities such as industry internships; and dissemination plans for successful graduate education activities.

The new solicitation for 2007 should be posted shortly, and each institution can submit up to four preliminary proposals. It will have a heightened emphasis on broadening participation.

We expect to support 20 awards each year, and each award can be up to $3 million over a five-year period. Since 1998, more than 10,000 graduates have received IGERT support.

We are also in the process of reviewing the number of IGERT projects awarded to any one particular institution at a given time in order to ensure broad participation. The new solicitation will also include measures to allow undergraduate student participation so more students have the opportunity t o participate.

[Slide #10: NSF Graduate Teaching Fellows in K-12 Education (GK-12)]
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The NSF Graduate Teaching Fellows in the K-12 Education program, or GK-12, support STEM graduate students for two years as part of larger partnerships between local school districts and graduate institutions. By placing graduate students directly in K-12 classrooms, the teachers and students are exposed to science while the graduate students enhance their teaching and communication skills.

Annually, the program supports 25 partnerships. It offers non-renewable five year awards for up to $600,000 per year. Since 1999, GK-12 has provided support for more than 5,000 graduate students. The American Competitiveness Initiative highlights this program.

[Slide #11: East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes (EAPSI)]
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And lastly, the East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes (EAPSI) support hands-on research and learning experiences abroad. Experiences have ranged from studying panda behavior in China to constructing carbon nanotubes in Australia. One 2005 participant published an article in Nature about seismic activity in Japan.

These proposals are due the second Tuesday of December each year. We anticipate making about 180 awards annually. Over the last 15 years, 1,400 EAPSI-supported graduate students have conducted cross-cultural, collaborative research first-hand--getting an early start at global networking.

[Slide #12: Washington Beckons You]
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While I'm speaking of building networks in foreign cultures, I would be remiss not to mention NSF's Dean in Residence program. The program provides support for a dean to serve as a visiting expert in NSF's Education and Human Resources Directorate.

NSF works by combination of permanent and staff and visiting scientists, so we beckon you.

Perhaps Joan Lorden, the Provost and Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, captured the essence of the program best while talking about her experience as a visiting scientist at NSF. She served as the Dean in Residence at NSF a few years ago.

She said, "The position of CGS/NSF dean in residence is the best job in Washington.
Although I was familiar with NSF as a grantee and reviewer, I had had no exposure to the policy or program development side of the organization. The position enabled me to have an impact on graduate education by bringing together people from the graduate community, industry, and other parts of government to consider the needs of graduate students and the nature of graduate education in the twenty-first century."

Now, how's that for a closing commercial?

[Slide #13: CGS and NSF Missions]
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It's not mere coincidence that "advancing" and "promoting" are in both the mission of the CGS and NSF. We all agree that the foundation of America's competitiveness is a well-educated and skilled workforce.

I look forward to working with all of you, in Washington and in your institutions, to fine-tune our nation's graduate education enterprise. Thank you.



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