Center for Science and the Schools aspires to help grant-seeking researchers
Grants from the federal government and other sources can ease the strain on a researcher whose entire research program and sometimes promotion and tenure can depend on such funding.
Penn State’s Center for Science and the Schools (CSATS) works with faculty researchers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields to provide guidance to meet the broader impacts (BI) requirements of grant-funding agencies.
“National Science Foundation research funding has become increasingly competitive, with a funding rate of around 10 percent,’’ said Annmarie Ward, director of CSATS and assistant professor of science education. “This requires researchers to spend more time writing proposals to fund their research. The broader impacts component of the proposal can be challenging to design.’’
CSATS fits into the picture by assisting faculty in developing entire education outreach plans or focusing on specific programs. The broader impacts section of proposals holds high relevance for teacher professional development programs; educating teachers can have far-reaching impacts because of the large number of students taught.
CSATS has a strong background of working on grant proposals with agencies such as NASA, NSF, USDA and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, according to Leah Bug, assistant director of CSATS. “We work on single-researcher as well as large multi-institutional grants,’’ she said.
“When NSF reviewers see a researcher collaborating with an educational unit, it lends more credibility to the proposal. If there’s a decision between two excellent science proposals, the broader impact section can be the deciding factor,’’ Bug said.
Sukyoung Lee, a professor of earth and mineral sciences, enlisted help from CSATS on a grant proposal and received positive feedback pertaining to the activities described in the BI section. “Annmarie and Leah did substantial work in writing the BI section of the proposals. I would not have known anything about what was required for organizing teachers’ workshops,’’ Lee said.
Phil Reno, an assistant professor of anthropology, found that having a strong BI plan is essential to being awarded funding. “CSATS has worked with me to design innovative BI plans that will benefit the larger community,’’ Reno said. “These plans include those traditionally underserved by such opportunities.”
CSATS' work also targets undergraduate and graduate student learning because many of the broader impacts projects include students working in researchers’ labs, according to Ward. “This allows University students to develop communication and teaching skills,” Ward said.
Amanda Smith serves as the center’s STEM Outreach and Engagement Liaison. Through her work, CSATS has developed relationships statewide with school districts, which has resulted in a database of information that provides a means for partnering with schools for the BI proposals.
CSATS also has worked with the Strategic Interdisciplinary Research Office (SIRO) on many successful grant applications. Its contributions include consulting with faculty on designing and implementing education outreach programs, site visit preparation and participating as investigators on strategic proposals, according to Kevin Dressler, associate director of Strategic Initiatives and Proposal Development.
“Assistance from CSATS has been vital for team-building in the EO space,’’ Dressler said. “Moreover, this partnership has solidified innovative outreach as required by many granting agencies for broader project impacts.’’
Dressler said the most important role CSATS plays – aside from providing ideas – is providing a vehicle for implementation through its K-12 teacher workshops and student-centered activities. “Although CSATS’ strength is mainly in the K-12 space, it has also served as a critical point of contact for other outreach pieces,’’ he said.
Dressler said that hosting monthly meetings and facilitating the sharing of information on ongoing Penn State outreach activities in K-20 enables CSATS to extend help to STEM researchers across the University.
For more information about CSATS, contact Annmarie Ward at 863-5240 or visit www.csats.psu.edu.
By Jim Carlson (January 2016)