The goals of the HSI program are to enhance the quality of undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and to increase the recruitment, retention, and graduation rates of students pursuing associate's or baccalaureate degrees in STEM. Achieving these, given the diverse nature and context of the HSIs, requires additional strategies that support building capacity at HSIs through innovative approaches: to incentivize institutional and community transformation; and to promote fundamental research (i) on engaged student learning, (ii) about what it takes to diversify and increase participation in STEM effectively, and (iii) that improves our understanding of how to build institutional capacity at HSIs. Intended outcomes of the HSI Program include broadening participation of students that are historically underrepresented in STEM and expanding students’ pathways to continued STEM education and integration into the STEM workforce.
The HSI program is aligned with the National Science Board's vision for, and the NSF's commitment to, a more diverse and capable science and engineering workforce.1,2 HSIs are heterogeneous and unique in many respects.3 Some HSIs have well-established undergraduate STEM programs while others are just beginning to create STEM programs. Whether 2-year or 4-year, public or private, the HSIs serve a wide range of students with a diverse set of educational backgrounds. The need for tailored initiatives, policies, and practices (mindful of socio-cultural awareness) should meet the students' needs and institutions' expectations while advancing undergraduate students at HSIs toward higher levels of academic achievement in STEM. This is the motivation behind three HSI program tracks: Track 1: Planning or Pilot Projects (PPP); Track 2: Implementation and Evaluation Projects (IEP); and Track 3: Institutional Transformation Projects (ITP). Track 3, ITP, is motivated by work on organizational identities for HSIs that suggest that organizational culture and identity play a key role in the success of an HSI in promoting student success in STEM.4
The HSI program accepts proposals in the following tracks:
Track 1: The Planning or Pilot Projects (PPP) track provides a funding opportunity for institutions that are new to NSF5 or are Primarily Undergraduate Institutions (PUIs6), including community colleges. The PPP has been designed to link with the other two tracks. The PPP track seeks to enhance undergraduate STEM education and build capacity at less-resourced institutions and to increase these institutions' ability to compete for NSF funding from other programs.
Planning projects in this track undertake the activities necessary to develop a future HSI program Track 2 or Track 3 proposal submission. Pilot projects in this track may be carried out to achieve a short-term, well-defined goal to enhance the availability of high-quality undergraduate STEM education at the HSI and gather preliminary data for future HSI program Track 2 or Track 3 proposals. Importantly, Pilot projects may also develop fundamental STEM education research capacity on student learning at HSIs, discovering effective means for diversifying and increasing participation in STEM. All PPP projects must include project evaluation and dissemination components.
Track 2: The Implementation and Evaluation Projects (IEP) track supports the implementation of evidence-based unit-, department-, or multi-department-level activities that will enhance the quality of undergraduate STEM education. All HSI institution types are encouraged to apply, especially PUIs (including community colleges). These projects may design and implement a new educational practice or practices, and/or adapt/replicate evidence-based practices that are already known to be effective.
IEP may conduct research that promotes one or more of the HSI program goals, including research on indicators of effective and successful undergraduate STEM education at HSIs. These projects must include both project evaluation and dissemination components, as well as an education research component. The IEP strategies are expected to be institutionalized and sustainable.
Track 3: The Institutional Transformation Projects (ITP) track supports institution-wide structural or systemic changes to enhance undergraduate STEM education at the proposing HSI. The ITP must be grounded in STEM education research and broadening participation research and be designed to make institutional infrastructure and policy changes to support long-term institutional changes that encourage and support faculty in implementing evidence-based practices that enhance student outcomes in STEM at the proposing HSI.
Under the ITP track, research (including foundational research) that improves our understanding of how to build HSI institutional capacity in STEM is encouraged. Such research should result in a strategic understanding about how the multiple components of the HSI program goals work synchronously to advance STEM education. All institution types are encouraged to apply, especially PUIs (including community colleges). Proposed activities can include adaptation of evidence-based strategies and/or the design and implementation of innovative strategies. The ITP must include both project evaluation and dissemination components, as well as an education research component. The ITP proposed structural or systemic changes are expected to be institutionalized and sustained by the HSI.
All tracks may support faculty research that is inter-, multi-, or trans-disciplinary, discipline-specific research, STEM education research, discipline-based STEM education research, or broadening participation research. Research may be based at their home institution, an NSF-funded research center, another institution of higher education, and/or a national laboratory. Fundamental research is particularly encouraged on engaged student learning at HSIs, and on effectively diversifying and increasing participation in STEM at HSIs. Research-related funds may be requested for undergraduate student research, supplies, equipment required to carry out the research, and faculty research development activities.
Proposed faculty research should support the overarching goals of the HSI program which seek to improve and enhance undergraduate STEM education, including undergraduate student research experiences. Proposed research should also explain how it will catalyze new faculty research activity in addition to supporting on-going faculty research activities. Each faculty member receiving funds to conduct research must include a four-page Faculty Research Plan in which one to two pages are used to describe the faculty member's track record in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), mentoring, and advancing diverse students in STEM.
All projects must generate new knowledge through project evaluation activities and articulate a plan for dissemination of findings. Track 2 (IEP) and Track 3 (ITP) proposals must additionally generate new knowledge about how to improve access to and/or the quality of STEM education through a well-constructed STEM education research plan that is aligned with the project’s goals. Additionally, proposals must provide institutional data with a narrative explaining the institution's need for the project and its ability to enhance the quality of undergraduate STEM education.
1Vision 2030, National Science Board, https://www.nsf.gov/nsb/publications/2020/nsb202015.pdf
2Building the Future Investing in Innovation and Discovery: NSF Strategic Plan 2018-2022. https://www.nsf.gov/publications/pub_summ.jsp?ods_key=nsf18045.
3 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Minority Serving Institutions: America's Underutilized Resource for Strengthening the STEM Workforce. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/25257.
4 García, Gina A. 2017. "Defined by outcomes or culture? Constructing an organizational identity for Hispanic-serving institutions." American Educational Research Journal, 54(1): 111S-134S.
5 The definition and guide to New to NSF can be found on Chapter II of proposal preparation instructions https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/policydocs/pappg18_1/pappg_2.jsp.
6 PUIs are “accredited colleges and universities (including two-year community colleges) that award Associate’s degrees, Bachelor’s degrees, and/or Master’s degrees in NSF-supported fields, but have awarded 20 or fewer Ph.D./ D.Sci. degrees in all NSF-supported fields during the combined previous two academic years.” PUI definition obtained from https://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=5518.