NSF INCLUDES: Looking Back and Across to Move Forward

DrFay
5 min readOct 11, 2022

From the INCLUDES Alliance Community Convening, September 2022

Via the recommendation in the 2013–2014 CEOSE report (2015), NSF has been challenged to undertake a leadership role among federal agencies to create an agency-wide initiative to advance broadening participation efforts. In response to this challenge, NSF INCLUDES was born to activate a more community (at scale) approach to SOLVE broadening participation in STEM. According to the Higher Education Research Institute, STEM disciplines include life sciences, physical sciences, engineering, mathematics, computer science, and the health sciences.

Broadening participation seeks to address the longstanding underrepresentation in STEM disciplines among women and girls, persons with disabilities, groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM such as African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Native Alaskans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders and persons from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

NSF houses numerous broadening participation programs, such as Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP), Historically Black Colleges and Universities Undergraduate Program (HBCU-UP), Tribal Colleges and Universities Program (TCUP), The Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) and Advancement of Women in Academic Science and Engineering Careers (ADVANCE), just to name a few. While these established programs provide critical resources to bolster broadening participation, progress remains uneven. These and other broadening participation initiatives and even the science of broadening participation have largely focused on the number of persons participating in STEM. Yet, counting programmatic participants is necessary but not sufficient to foster systemic change. Systemic change approaches should bolster institutional (and an individual — unit of analyses) capacity. This involves adjustments or transformations in the policies, practices, power dynamics, social norms or mindsets.

NSF INCLUDES through its collaborative infrastructure model with a backbone element requires that investigators think, act and measure with intentionality. NSF INCLUDES is a backbone-enabled, collaborative infrastructure system change process. It is not your typical NSF broadening participation (BP) project. This requires current NSF INCLUDES Alliances and NSF (as an agency) to examine participation equity using intersectional measures. This intersectionality requires an examination of the individual, institutional, local, state and national power structures embedded in policies that often hinder full participation, create harm, and increase bias. This requires current NSF INCLUDES Alliances and NSF (as an agency) to examine participation equity using intersectional measures. This intersectionality requires an examination of the individual, institutional, local, state and national power structures embedded in policies that often hinder full participation.

NSF INCLUDES should be a mindset not just within target populations but also across alliance engagement for improved cross-fertilization to address the greater NSF INCLUDES charge!

However, the loudest voices leave no room of inclusion and equity, or an understanding of the lived experience. Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) (e.g., Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, Tribal Colleges and Universities and community colleges) are largely absent from this discourse. Systemic change will not happen with the halo effect often associated with R1s and PWIs. As noted in the NASEM report (2019), MSIs are underutilized, yet contributing resources to the STEM ecosystem, and the APLU report (2018), noted that the need for longer term commitments and investments in STEM and other initiatives at MSIs.

While dashboards can serve to capture often sought-after data, such as matriculation, enrollment, hiring, completion data, systemic change warrants a discussion and data-informed decision-making at the individual, institutional, state and national levels. For example, a recent Chronicle of Higher Education infographic (2022) indicated that institutions are collecting holistic, health and basic needs data to better understand how to improve student success and support services. To inform and generate systemic change in STEM, these data can lend themselves to inform institutional change.

So, what happens at the end of Year 5 (or the beginning of year 4)? As one of the NSF INCLUDES’ five elements suggest sustainability, expansion, and scale are central to alliance continuity. The backbone organization has a substantial role in the path to sustainability. That is, how does the backbone engage in the data work associated with an individual alliance, and how does it function to connect to the NSF INCLUDES Coordination HUB effectively and efficiently? What are the provisions for the backbone to remain in a steady-state or evolve? While partnerships for sustainability can be desirable, the effectiveness of the backbone and its commitment to the “work” must be clearly defined if system change with nationally shared results to full participation will be obtained.

In sum, NSF was tasked with leading the national agenda to solve broadening participation. Three courses of action can result in systemic change. First, any solution to this problem means collaboration among federal agencies (e.g., NASA, NIST, DOE, NIH, and others). Industry and philanthropy have a role to play; however, the historical long-standing STEM participation problem cannot lead to system change when short-term metrics (i.e., ROI, #women, #exams completion) center the discourse. Second, broadening participation myopically focuses on the demographics and often “fixing — right sizing” people (Payton, et al, 2021) otherwise known as the fixer syndrome. Ecology models would suggest interconnected and complex interactions that occur environments warrant examination to further bolster systemic change. Lastly, NSF INCLUDES Alliances should create a collective agenda and recommendations as a feedback loop to NSF as an agency. This collective agenda should communicate research, infrastructure and broadening participation tenets to NSF that can result in new funding mechanisms (e.g., CISE MSI Research Expansion Program), revise and improve existing programs, and drive broader national STEM policies.

References:

The Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering (CEOSE) Report (2013–2014). A Framework for Implementing a Bold New Initiative to Address The Grand Challenge Of Broadening Participation. National Science Foundation.

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.

Anderson, E. L., Williams, K. L., Ponjuan, L., & Frierson, H. (2018). The 2018 Status Report on Engineering Education: A Snapshot of Diversity in Degrees Conferred in Engineering, Association of Public & Land-grant Universities: Washington, D.C.

The Chronicle of Higher Education (2022). Why Student Data is More Valuable Than Ever. (Infographic).

Payton, F.C., Yarger, L. and Mbarika, V. (2021). What’s Missing from the Push to Diversify Tech. MIT Tech Review.

Computer and Information Science and Engineering Minority-Serving Institutions Research Expansion Program (CISE-MSI Program), NSF Program Solicitation (NSF 21–533).

Citation for this piece: Payton, Fay Cobb (2022). NSF INCLUDES: Looking Back and Across to Move Forward, NSF INCLUDES Alliance Community Convening (at Arizona State University), The Medium.

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DrFay

Ph.D., Computing/Decision Systems & Health Systems; author of “Leveraging Intersectionality: Seeing and Not Seeing”; http://cobbpayton.com