STEM Educators Discuss NSF Grant Opportunities

In a virtual meeting of TCUP-funded institutions, NSF announces extended deadlines for proposals and offers advice for proposal writing and grant management.

By Paul Boyer

National Science Foundation’s headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. The virtual gathering was a partial replacement for a postponed Tribal Colleges and Universities Program Leaders’ Forum.

While the coronavirus has disrupted academic life within tribal and Native-serving colleges, opportunities for funding remain–and the National Science Foundation, in particular, is encouraging eligible institutions to apply for support through its Tribal Colleges and Universities Program (TCUP).

In a July 15 Zoom presentation, current and former NSF administrators reviewed TCUP program strands and announced extended proposal submission deadlines.

The Tribal Colleges and Universities Program was established nearly twenty years ago to support STEM education within the nation’s network of tribally controlled colleges, as well as Native-serving institutions within the University of Hawaii and University of Alaska, said Costello Brown, retired Division Director for Educational System Reform within the NSF.

Areas of support include faculty development, curriculum development, facilities, equity, technology, and research. Program strands range from planning grants for first-time TCUP grantees, to multi-year awards that support development of new courses and degree programs.

According to NSF-TCUP Program Director Jody Chase, deadlines for the current round of funding have been extended, with new due dates ranging from September 4 for Instructional Capacity Excellence in TCUP Institutions (ICE-TI) grants, to December 10 for Small Grants for Research (SGR).

Chase particularly encouraged proposals for development of TCU Enterprise Advancement Centers, TCUP’s newest funding strand. According to the NSF, TEA Centers “enable tribal colleges to become research and development resources for their reservations and communities,” allowing institutions to “address a critical tribal or community need or focus on a realm of STEM research or design that is beyond the scope of individual research grants.” The deadline for 2020 TEA Center proposals is September 28.

The presentation was a partial replacement for a postponed in-person NSF-TCUP Leaders’ Forum, which was to be held this past spring in Phoenix. Leaders’ Forums allow administrators and faculty from TCUP-funded institutions to network, share best practices, and learn about new grant opportunities. (Reports from several previous Forums can be found in Native Science Report’s “Resources” page.)

As the 2020 Leaders’ Forum remains indefinitely postponed, the virtual meeting was organized to provide time-sensitive information about deadlines and grant management, including practical reminders for those writing a proposal or currently managing a TCUP grant. Chase and Brown urged meeting participants to:

  • Carefully review NSF solicitations for eligibility, submission requirements, and deadlines.
  • Start writing proposals well in advance of due dates. Brown suggested creating a self-imposed deadline a month before the actual deadline (while admitting to his own procrastination as a young researcher). He also reminded attendees that deadlines are iron-clad. Proposals submitted late—even minutes late—will be rejected.
  • Submit required reports on time: Acknowledging widespread confusion over due dates, Chase explained that the first annual report is actually due nine months after the grant’s anniversary date—and three months before it becomes “overdue” within the system. Late submission can delay funding for as much as a year, she said. It can also block PIs (and their co-PIs) from completing otherwise simple actions, such as requesting no cost extensions. Additionally, new proposals to NSF or any other federal agency will not be processed.

The Zoom gathering also included some discussion of the history and impact of NSF’s support to tribally controlled colleges and universities. Carty Monette, retired president of Turtle Mountain Community College, noted in his introduction that STEM is a critical part of tribal colleges, and the communities they serve.

“Science, math, technology, and research are important to Indian people because they are critical to the future of our people and the sovereignty of our nations,” he said.

He and others praised the role played by TCUP in the development of STEM programs. Brown noted that, prior to TCUP, most tribal colleges offered only a limited number of science-related degrees, mostly at the associate level. Now, he said, many offer four-year and even graduate-level STEM programs.

“All,” he said, “were directly attributable to TCUP.”

While funding for TCUP is a just under $15 million annually—less than what an individual mainstream university might spend on research, Brown said–the impact of the program is amplified by Program Director Jody Chase’s efforts to build partnerships with other NSF divisions and other federal agencies. This strategy of leveraging funds, Brown said, “makes a dollar go a long way.”

Diana Elder, director of the NSF’s Division of Human Resource Development, also noted the power of partnerships. Welcoming participants to the meeting, she praised TCUP’s role as an advocate for Native American higher education within the NSF and throughout the federal government.

The meeting was facilitated by Sisseton Wahpeton College, which was to host the postponed Leaders’ Forum gathering. Citing success of the virtual event, moderator Scott Morgan, director of Institutional Research and Programs at the college, said that additional gatherings might be scheduled. He noted that several participants expressed interest in discussing strategies for online STEM instruction and addressing the digital divide.

For more information about writing a TCUP proposal and managing NSF awards:

TCUP due dates and summaries

NSF Proposal preparation

Reporting requirements and due dates

Native Science Report’s previous reporting on Tribal Enterprise Advancement Centers:

NSF-TCUP program solicitation released; new support for tribal “Enterprise Advancement Centers”

NSF funds four tribal research centers

An Open Wound [Examines the work of the Nicʔ-Mní (Water) Center at Aaniiih Nakoda College]

The Transformative Power of Research [Introduces United Tribes Technical College’s Intertribal Research and Resource Center]

Paul Boyer is editor of Native Science Report.

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