This blog from ASPB's public affairs unit will provide updates on policy developments in Washington and other plant biology news impacting the ASPB community. Please send any news, comments, or suggestions to ASPB's public affairs director, Adam Fagen, at firstname.lastname@example.org
Policy Archives available under Group Pages.
Posted By Lewis-Burke Associates LLC,
Friday, February 24, 2012
Associates LLC – February 22, 2012
7, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST)
released the report, "Engage to Excel: Producing One Million Additional
College Graduates with Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and
Mathematics (STEM).” This report on
undergraduate education is a follow-up to an earlier PCAST report on K-12 STEM education that was released in September
2010, and both are centered on the goal of creating a STEM-capable
workforce. The new report focuses on the first two years of undergraduate
learning, which PCAST considers a crucial step in the STEM pipeline.
The recommendations are:
Catalyze the adoption of empirically-validated teaching
techniques through the alignment of incentives for faculty, the expansion
of disciplinary models that prepare new faculty in research-based STEM
teaching, and the creation of a new grant program for institutional
transformation. The report also recommends that the National
Academies create metrics to evaluate STEM undergraduate teaching and learning.
Create new research courses for first and second year
students to involve students in research early and move away from
"cookbook” experiments. Scale-up model research and design courses
and change federal rules to allow the expansion of opportunities for
students in faculty research laboratories.
Engage mathematicians and scientists in a national
postsecondary mathematics education experiment to improve math education
and ensure that early math courses are connected to science learning
Encourage stakeholder partnerships to diversify
pathways to STEM careers, including connecting high school students to
summer STEM learning opportunities, strengthening pathways from two to
four year institutions, and catalyzing the creation of public-private
partnerships to advance STEM learning that establishes industry-relevant
Create a Presidential council to provide leadership on
undergraduate STEM education. This council would involve various
stakeholders from academia, business, foundations, and scientific
societies to inspire changes to undergraduate education and make
recommendations on specific federal activities.
response to the PCAST report, the President announced new initiatives in the fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget request to support the
Widening Implementation and Demonstration of
Evidence-based Reforms (WIDER): $20 million would be provided (a 150
percent increase over FY 2012) to increase the use of evidence-based
undergraduate STEM education practices through institutional reforms.
Expeditions in Education (E2):
NSF would establish a new program E2 to connect EHR with NSF
research directorates and offices to "integrate, leverage, and expand STEM
education research and development” with NSF research activities. E2
would be supported at $49 million in FY 2013 with a focus on
undergraduate education, sustainability, and cyberlearning.
K-16 Math Education: NSF will work with
the Department of Education to develop an "evidence-based initiative to improve
K-16 mathematics and knowledge building.” In FY 2013, the Department of
Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Education and NSF’s Directorate for
Education and Human Resources (EHR) will each contribute $30 million, with
EHR’s support through the Discovery Research K-12 and Transforming
Undergraduate Education in STEM (TUES) programs. Funding for other TUES
activities would also be increased.
STEM Teacher Training: $80 million would
be provided through the Department of Education for a new competitive program as
part of the Effective Teachers and Leaders program. The new funding would
support STEM teacher preparation programs, such as those modeled on the
University of Texas UTEACH program that allows undergraduate students to earn a
STEM bachelors degree and a teaching certificate at the same time.
The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and
Technology (PCAST) devoted significant discussion to research and development (R&D)
at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the National Science
Foundation (NSF) at its January 7, 2011, meeting in Washington, DC. PCAST is an advisory group of the nation’s
leading scientists and engineers who directly advise the President and the
Executive Office of the President (EOP).
The meeting featured a presentation and discussion with
Catherine Woteki, Chief Scientist and Under Secretary for Research, Education,
and Economics at USDA, and Roger Beachy, director of USDA’s National Institute
of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).
In her presentation entitled "Why Science Matters to
Agriculture,” Dr. Woteki cited 21st Century challenges in food security, food
safety, nutrition and health, bioenergy, and climate change; among USDA initiatives
was the training of more plant scientists as we seek to understand and develop
new crops. She mentioned that
agriculture contributes $121 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), provides
2.1 million jobs, and contributes $20 billion in net exports; food manufacturing
adds another $165 billion to GDP and 1.6 million jobs. She cited that every dollar invested in
agricultural research contributes $20 to the economy.
In his comments, Dr. Beachy noted that the NIFA reorganization had taken
place with the programs divided into four new institutes (see October 21, 2010, issue of the ASPB Washington Report for more
information); NIFA is currently recruiting principal scientists who will
co-lead each institute along with a senior administrator. One take-home message from Dr. Beachy’s
presentation is that there is much more demand for NIFA funding than the
available resources will support: for example, the climate change challenge
area received $815 million in requests but only had $58 million to allocate. He mentioned a desire to broaden the base of
institutions interested in AFRI funding.
Of nearly $4 billion in total grant requests this past fiscal year, $574
million in applications were from non-land
grant institutions including some of the nation’s most prestigious private
universities and institutions. In fact,
over 500 different institutions applied for AFRI funding in fiscal year 2010,
well beyond the 107 land grant colleges and universities. Finally, Dr. Beachy noted some new
initiatives in which USDA was partnering with other funding agencies, including
joint programs with NSF in phenomics in plants and hydrological modeling, with
NSF and the National Institutes of Health in systems approaches to plant and
microbial biology and in genomics and phenomics; and with NSF in education
initiatives to target middle school students and teachers.
During the discussion that followed, PCAST co-chair John P.
Holdren, who is assistant to the President for science and technology and director
of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) within EOP, said that
there’s "a whole new world for research at USDA” and called the initiatives as "impressive
as could be.”
One PCAST member asked whether there was a prospect of full
indirect cost recovery on USDA grants.
In addition to suggesting that this was unlikely at present, Dr. Woteki
pointed out that if indirects were raised, funding for USDA R&D would have
to increase substantially just to keep pace with the current support for direct
In addition to the participation of Woteki and Beachy, nearly
all of the 13 public comments offered during the meeting were made in support
of research investments at USDA and NSF.
In its comments, ASPB noted that "One of the most effective ways to
invest in the future and address urgent needs in food, health, energy, and environment
is by increasing support for competitive grants and especially those at USDA.” And CropLife America said that "federal funding for food and agricultural
research, extension and education represents a top national priority and a
necessary long-term national commitment.”
Subra Suresh, who has been in place as NSF director for
about three months, focused on some of the big initiatives at NSF, including
basic research for market viability; the pipeline in science, technology,
engineering, and mathematics (STEM) talent; U.S. leadership in STEM fields; and
interdisciplinary opportunities for discovery.
He noted that the United States devotes about 35.5% of the world’s
investment in R&D, but other countries are noticeably increasing their
investments and have surpassed the United States in the percentage of GDP spent
on R&D. Suresh discussed troubling
statistics on the participation of underrepresented minorities and women in
their pursuit of scientific careers. He
also cited the challenges posed by increasing opportunities for international
scholars to pursue training and careers in countries around the world.
PCAST is co-chaired by John P. Holdren, assistant to the
President for science and technology and director of the Office of Science and
Technology Policy (OSTP) within EOP, and Eric S. Lander, director of the Broad
Institute of MIT and Harvard, professor of biology at MIT, and professor of
systems biology at Harvard Medical School.