New NSF Funding to Strengthen Capacity of Community Colleges, HBCUs for the Innovation Economy | Bot To News


The US National Science Foundation has launched a new $20 million recruitment program called Enabling Partnerships to Increase Innovation Capacity (EPIIC). The goal of the NSF EPIC program is to help more community colleges, historically black colleges and universities, minority-serving institutions, and other emerging research institutions expand career opportunities in the innovation economy.

The NSF EPIIC Program will help schools build their partnership capabilities for training that leads to jobs in emerging technology fields, including artificial intelligence, quantum computing, nanotechnology, and clean energy—all of which Congress identified as national priorities in the $280 billion CHIPS and Act on Science of 2022, adopted by the Biden Administration earlier this year.

The program also encourages student and faculty entrepreneurship. NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan stated that the program will “create opportunities for more inclusive participation in entrepreneurship, startups and other commercialization activities” in a press release announcing the funding program.

NSF expects to award up to 50 institutions $400,000 in grants over three years under the call. Grant recipients will receive virtual and in-person training focused on workforce development, application-inspired research, and technology transfer—the process of translating college and university student and faculty research into inventions, startups, and patented intellectual property.

The NSF EPIIC follows the launch of the $30 million NSF ExLENT in October, which funds partnerships between workforce entities and emerging technology organizations to create or scale workplace and experiential learning programs for youth and adults. Programs eligible for NSF ExLENT funding include apprenticeships, co-ops, internships, and bootcamps that focus on emerging technology fields.

Both programs are housed in NSF’s Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP) Directorate, which was established in early 2022 to help accelerate technology innovation, start-up companies, and create jobs from funded research and development federal state.

NSF hopes EPIIC will also help more community colleges, HBCUs and MSIs partner with major research universities to apply to the larger NSF Engines program, which the directorate announced earlier this year. NSF Engines will provide $160 million to several regional consortia to build more inclusive regional innovation ecosystems outside of traditional coastal hubs like Silicon Valley, Boston and New York City.

Historically, NSF funding has been awarded to selective doctoral degree-granting research universities with Carnegie classifications of R1 and R2, but since its inception, the NSF TIP directorate has expressed interest in assisting a more diverse set of higher education institutions with funding, including partnering with research universities R1 and R2.

In an interview with New America, Erwin Gianchandani, inaugural head of NSF’s TIP Directorate, expressed a particular interest in creating greater support for community colleges to jobs in the innovation economy.

“As the director of NSF has emphasized since the day we established the new TIP directorate, our vision is to create opportunities for all Americans to participate in the nation’s research and innovation enterprise,” Gianchandani told me in an email. “NSF Engines, EPIIC and ExLENT form a tightly integrated suite of programs that do just that.”

According to Gianchandani, new NSF programs like EPIIC and ExLENT should help increase the number of HBCUs, MSIs, community colleges and technical schools that can act as partners in the innovation ecosystem that the larger NSF Engines grant program seeks to foster.

Partnerships for Equitable Innovation Ecosystems

The Center for Education and Work in a New America has documented the growth, opportunities, and challenges of emerging technology-related education and training at community colleges.

The most successful emerging technology training programs have included partnerships with technology-based economic development organizations, research universities, and companies at the cutting edge of developing or deploying new technologies. However, colleges report challenges in building their internal infrastructure to support partnerships, including helping faculty and staff understand emerging technologies and regional innovation ecosystems and connecting with new types of employers and economic development partners.

Nevertheless, several models of successful partnership have been documented. Many include federal support. In Arizona, Solar corridor economic development entity helped Pima Community College in Arizona and an autonomous vehicle company TuSimple partner to create the nation’s first autonomous vehicle certification program. The program and partners were also supported by a grant from the US Department of Transportation’s University Transportation Centers Program.

In Tennessee, the US Department of Defense funded the America Cutting Edge program, a four-party workforce partnership in advanced honey manufacturing Pellissippi State Community College and University of Tennessee-Knoxville and two federally funded research and development entities – the IACMI, American Composites Manufacturing Instituteand Oakridge National Laboratory.

Employers are also working to encourage new pathways to emerging technology jobs. Especially after the killing of George Floyd in 2020, several companies expanded partnerships with local universities, HBCUs, and MSIs to diversify the tech workforce, and more recently these efforts have begun to focus on emerging technology fields, such as those targeted by NSF and CHIPS . and the Science Act.

in November, AmazonAWS Machine Learning University has launched an “educator enablement” bootcamp to help professors at community colleges and HBCUs learn and teach artificial intelligence. The bootcamp is modeled after the training Amazon offers to its employees and includes a stipend awarded to participants.

Intel collaborated with American Association of Local Schools expand AI workforce training programs at universities in all 50 states by next year. Intel CEO Pat Gelsingergraduate of a local college, has publicly advocated for more pathways to AI jobs at community colleges.

As the Biden administration seeks to improve its economic competitiveness and emerging technology agenda by implementing the CHIPS and Science Act, programs like the NSF EPIIC may be just what community colleges, HBCUs, and MSIs need to meet industry demand and expand equitable pathways to career. in emerging technological fields.

NSF will host an informative webinar on the EPIIC program on January 13. The deadline for grant proposals will be May 2023, and preliminary proposals in February 2023.



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