The Monthly SWE Newsletter
August 2014
Public Policy

National Science Foundation Toolkit Highlights Impact of NSF Investments

The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently released a robust toolkit that includes new videos, infographics, fact sheets and brochures that describe NSF investments in fundamental research and how they contribute to the nation's science and engineering enterprise.

Part of the toolkit package is an animated, NSF-produced video that describes the agency's rigorous merit review process. The agency also developed an infographic series titled "Data by Design: Snapshot of NSF's Programs, Processes, Funding & Impact." The charts within showcase the Foundation's role in building tomorrow's workforce, driving innovation, influencing national and international discoveries and facilitating interdisciplinary collaborations.

In addition, NSF has developed brochures that highlight each directorate's contribution to pushing the frontiers of science, engineering and education. These contributions include the fundamental research that led to self-driving cars, the artificial retina, modeling seismic waves, an increase in accuracy of GPS devices, equipment that relays real-time emergency information to emergency workers and residents, unraveling cancer, rescue robots, building a diverse STEM workforce, and more.

The toolkit may be viewed here.

Increase in Number of US STEM Graduates, but Workforce Skills Are Not Keeping Pace

Despite clear evidence that Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) degrees lead to higher salaries and more employment opportunities than other degrees, only 16 percent of 2008 graduates received a STEM degree, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The lack of workers with STEM skills has translated into a difficult hiring environment for many U.S. firms. A recent Brookings Institution study reveals that the lack of STEM graduates has meant that STEM job postings take twice as long to fill as other postings.

An NCES survey of 2008 bachelor’s degree recipients found that, as of 2012, 5 percent of STEM graduates were unemployed, compared to 7.1 percent of other graduates. STEM graduates also were more likely to be employed full-time, to have just one job and to have spent fewer total months unemployed. Average salary for STEM graduates was $65,000, compared to $44,500 for other respondents.

The NCES data reflects a decades-long trend toward an economy that favors STEM credentials. Jobs requiring computer skills, such as data visualization, natural language processing or iOS and Android development, drew the longest posting times. As a result, these skills appear to bring the largest increases in average salary.

The actual size of the skills gap is difficult to determine since posting duration varies considerably by specific field and metropolitan area. Despite this need for more data, it is clear that there is a significant need to prepare greater numbers of workers for STEM positions at the post-secondary/sub-bachelor’s degree level. These positions, including nurses, repair workers and technicians, remain in high demand across the country.

In another recent report, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) demonstrated the difficulty of designing a policy solution to address the skills gap. The number of degrees awarded in STEM fields grew by 55 percent between 2002 and 2011. In comparison, non-STEM degrees grew by only 37 percent. However, professional STEM vacancies now take longer to fill than before the recession. These trends suggest that the number of STEM graduates has not kept pace with the growth in STEM jobs, especially in the particular fields and regions that are hiring.

Download the NCES Study.

Download the Brookings Institution’s report here.

Download the GAO report.

Scicast: A Crowdsourced Forecasting Platform for Science and Technology

The AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy has been helping George Mason University recruit scientists with a diverse set of expertise to assist in a science and technology forecasting project called SciCast. The purpose of this project, which is funded by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), is to determine whether crowdsourcing can be used to accurately predict the future of science and technology questions. These questions vary by discipline and focus, and range from the more applied science and engineering advancements to the highly technical, basic science achievements.

If you are interested in learning more about the project, visit the SciCast home page.

Additional information can be found on the George Mason University website.

House Passes Several S&T Bills

On July 14, the House of Representatives passed several science and engineering related bills. The bills (H.R. 5031, H.R. 5056, and H.R. 5029) were small portions of the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology (FIRST) Act that the House Science, Space and Technology Committee introduced earlier this year to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act. These smaller bills had strong bipartisan support.

H.R. 5031, the STEM Education Act, adds computer science to the definition of STEM for federal science agencies, authorizes informal STEM education grants at the National Science Foundation and amends NSF’s Noyce Master Teacher Fellowship program to expand eligibility to current math and science teachers who already have a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field. Supporters of the legislation believe it will provide critical support to the teachers and advocates of STEM education who are preparing our students with the skills they need to succeed in our increasingly competitive global economy.

H.R. 5056, the Research and Development Efficiency Act, requires that the Office of Science and Technology Policy establish a working group of federal research agencies to figure out how to better standardize and streamline the administrative requirements on their grantees.

H.R. 5029, the International Science and Technology Cooperation Act of 2014, provides for the establishment of a body to identify and coordinate international science and technology cooperation that can strengthen the domestic science and technology enterprise and support United States foreign policy goals. Again, supporters believe that improvements in areas such as energy security, infectious diseases, space exploration, telecommunications and the internet (and many more) are dependent in part on international cooperation, which benefits all nations involved. By collaborating with international partners on scientific and engineering issues, the U.S. scientific enterprise will get the biggest return on investment.

Then on July 22nd, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 5120 and H.R. 5035 by voice vote. H.R. 5120, the Department of Energy (DOE) Laboratory Modernization and Technology Transfer Act of 2014, would unify the management of the DOE’s science and energy programs under one Undersecretary for Science and Energy position and reform regulations at DOE’s National Labs to promote transfers of federal research into the commercialization process.

This legislation would make it easier for entrepreneurs and business leaders to harness federally funded research by setting up a new commercialization pilot program and authorizing new public-private partnerships. Both initiatives are aimed at moving technologies out of the lab system and into the marketplace.

H.R. 5035, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Authorization Act of 2014, reauthorizes the agency through FY 2015 and includes updated language about the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership program.

Full text of these bills may be found here by searching the bill number.

SWE Exhibits at Women’s Policy Inc STEM Fair

On July 24, SWE exhibited at Women’s Policy Inc’s (WPI) STEM Fair on Capitol Hill. WPI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization whose sole focus is to ensure the most informed decisions on key women’s issues are made by policymakers at the federal, state and local levels. WPI has a longstanding relationship with the bicameral, bipartisan Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues. This is the second year that SWE has exhibited at the Fair.

At the event, 20 exhibits showcased a diverse group of public and private sector STEM programs designed to encourage girls and women to pursue STEM education and careers. SWE President-Elect Colleen Layman and SWE Washington Representative Melissa Carl represented SWE at the event.

Over 325 people attended the event, including 10 members of Congress, federal agency representatives, corporate and labor supporters, congressional staff and leaders of women’s and STEM organizations.

Additional information about the event can be found here.

Senate Committee Approves CJS Appropriations Legislation

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved 30-0 a draft fiscal 2015 Commerce-Justice-Science spending bill that would provide $51.2 billion in discretionary funds for the departments of Justice and Commerce, as well as science agencies. The spending level is $398 million less than the fiscal 2014 level and $1 billion more than requested by President Barack Obama; it is equal to the House level of the bill discussed above. The bill would provide $8.6 billion for the Commerce Department and $17.9 billion for NASA.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is funded at $900 million, which is $50 million above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level. This will fund NIST’s Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) and Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia (AMTech) in order to help manufacturers accelerate development and adoption of cutting-edge manufacturing technologies.

The bill provides the full request of $7.2 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF), an increase of $83 million over fiscal year 2014. The increase will provide 140 more competitive grants supporting 2,000 more technicians, teachers, scientists, and students in fiscal year 2015.

The $17.9 billion in the bill for NASA will preserve a NASA portfolio balanced among science, aeronautics, technology, and human space flight investments. It funds NASA to continue to work with private companies to build new crew transportation and fueling a new satellite servicing industry that can revive, refuel, and rejuvenate defunct communications satellites. The amount provided for NASA is $439 million above the President’s request and $254 million above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level.

It is unclear when the full Senate will take up this legislation.

The Committee report may be reviewed here.

House Passes FY 2015 Funding Bill for NASA, NIST, and NSF

The House of Representatives passed its Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations legislation to fund NASA, NIST, and the NSF for the coming fiscal year starting on October 1st.  The bill passed by a vote of 321 to 87.

During consideration of the legislation, Frank Wolf, Chairman of the CJS Appropriations Subcommittee, remarked that “A primary area of focus in the bill this year is scientific research, innovation and competitiveness. Investing in basic research is key to growth and job creation, and it is the foundation for the economic security of future generations which enables us to stay ahead of China.”

The subcommittee wrote the FY 2015 bill under difficult circumstances. Overall funding was about $400 million less than the current level. In the last five fiscal years the subcommittee has cut total spending by $13.3 billion or 20 percent.

Grants made by NSF’s Social, Behavioral, and Economics (SBE) Directorate were discussed as was the foundation’s grant making process. In introducing his bill, Wolf said, “With increased funding comes increased responsibility. I respect the NSF to follow through on the commitments it has made to the committee to increase accountability and transparency in its grant decision making. No funny grants is what I am trying to say. The new director must take every necessary step to ensure that research grants are scientifically meritorious, that funding allocations reflect national priorities and that the taxpayer investments in science are being used wisely.”

During debate of the legislation, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) offered an amendment to reduce the bill’s FY 2015 funding for the NSF’s Social, Behavioral, and Economics (SBE) directorate by $15.4 million, resulting in level funding of $256.9 million. This funding would be shifted to NSF physical science and engineering grants. The amendment passed by a vote of 208-201.

Other science-related amendments discussed on the floor included one by Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) to move $7 million in NASA funding from space operations to space technology. It was accepted by House members. The House rejected an amendment offered by Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) to shift $10 million from NASA’s Exploration program to an international trade enforcement program. An amendment by Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) to reduce NSF’s FY 2015 appropriation by $67 million was rejected by voice vote. Rep. Matt Salmon’s (R-AZ) amendment to eliminate NSF funding for research on climate change impacts on Chinese tea was accepted by voice vote. Another amendment that would have affected specific NSF research grants was ruled out of order.

The full bill may be reviewed here.

NSB Seeks Nominations for FY 2015 Honorary Awards

Each year, the National Science Board (NSB) honors leaders with remarkable contributions and public service in science and engineering through its Vannevar Bush and Public Service Awards. Nominations for the 2015 honorary awards are now open until Wednesday, October 1, 2014.

NSB's Vannevar Bush Award is named after the public servant who was behind the creation of the National Science Foundation (NSF). The award honors life-long leaders who have made exceptional contributions toward the welfare of humankind and the nation through public service activities in science, technology, and public policy.

Candidates for the Vannevar Bush award must be U.S. citizens and have demonstrated outstanding leadership and accomplishment in meeting at least two of the following selection criteria:

  • Distinguished him/herself through public service activities in science and technology;
  • Pioneered the exploration, charting and settlement of new frontiers in science, technology, education and public service;
  • Demonstrated leadership and creativity that inspired others to distinguished careers in science and technology;
  • Contributed to the welfare of the nation and humankind through activities in science and technology;
  • Demonstrated leadership and creativity that has helped mold the history of advancements in the nation's science, technology and education.

Past recipients include former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine, former science advisor and NSF director Neal Lane, and former Carnegie Institution president Maxine Singer. All recipients are listed on the NSB website.

Nomination instructions are available on the Vannevar Bush Award webpage.

The Public Service Award honors individuals and groups for substantial contributions to increasing public understanding of science and engineering in the United States. These contributions may be in a wide variety of areas, including mass media, social media, education, training programs and entertainment.

NSB typically bestows two public service awards each year: one to an individual and one to a company, corporation or organization. Members of the U.S. government are not eligible to receive the award.

Candidates should have demonstrated outstanding leadership and accomplishment in meeting the following selection criteria:

  • Increased public understanding of science and engineering processes through discovery, innovation and public communication;
  • Encouraged others to raise public understanding of science and technology;
  • Promoted engagement of scientists and engineers in public outreach and scientific literacy;
  • Contributed to the development and support of broad science and engineering policy;
  • Influenced and encouraged the next generation of scientists and engineers;
  • Achieved broad recognition outside of the candidate's area of specialization;
  • Fostered awareness of science and technology among broad segments of the population.

Moira Gunn, Host of Tech Nation; Craig Barrett, Intel Corporation; and, the PBS series "NOVA," are all past awardees. A complete list of recipients, as well as nomination instructions, can be found on the award webpage.

SWE Highlighted at White House Summit on Working Families

On June 23rd, SWE FY14 President Stacey DelVecchio attended the White House Summit on Working Families, an event that “convene(d) businesses, economists, labor leaders, legislators, advocates and the media for a discussion on issues facing the entire spectrum of working families – from low-wage workers to corporate executives, from young parents to baby boomers caring for their aging parents.”

President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Dr. Jill Biden all attended the event, and provided remarks.

Included in the event’s fact sheet was a mention of SWE’s upcoming “new online training tools for parents, educators, and mentors to inspire and encourage more young girls to pursue engineering careers. With funding from the S. D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, the online resource gives parents information and tools to understand how engineering can improve girls’ academic achievement and career prospects, and gives teachers and mentors activities to use with students to engage and build their interests in STEM fields. This new training builds on a series of publicly available tools to encourage women and girls to pursue and succeed in engineering careers.”

Additional information about the Summit can be found here.

New NSF Data: Foreign Graduate Enrollment In Science And Engineering Continues To Rise

According to new data from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the number of citizens and permanent residents enrolled in science and engineering (S&E) graduate programs in the United States declined in 2012, while the number of foreign students studying on temporary visas increased.

The 1.7 percent drop in U.S. citizens and permanent residents was countered by a 4.3 percent increase in enrollment of foreign S&E graduate students on temporary visas. Overall, growth of S&E graduate student enrollment stalled for the second year in a row in 2012 (the most recent year for which data is available) after experiencing annual increases of two to three percent from 2005 to 2010. S&E graduate enrollment grew by less than one percent in 2011 and 2012.

These findings are from the fall 2012 Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering, cosponsored by the NSF and the National Institutes of Health. More information can be found here.

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