The National Science Board moves to address issues with the nation’s ‘skilled technical workforce’ ?>

The National Science Board moves to address issues with the nation’s ‘skilled technical workforce’


The National Science Board convened last week for its final meeting of 2017.  The board reviewed programs and activities within the Directorate for Engineering, the latest iteration of its Science and Engineering Indicators report, and approved a charge to investigate the National Science Foundation’s role in support of the nation’s skilled technical workforce.

Highlights from the meeting are below.

  • The strategy committee highlighted one of NSF’s 10 Big Ideas, gave an overview of the Engineering Directorate’s activities and provided an update on the appropriations process.
    • Both the U.S. House and Senate have proposed cuts to the NSF in fiscal year 2018. While the House provided flat funding for what is known as NSF’s “Research and Related Activities” through cuts to the agency’s account for major research equipment and facilities construction, the Senate reduced R&RA funding to cover the cost of new research ships.
    • James Ulvestad, acting assistant director in the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences, highlighted some of the recent astrophysics discoveries and presented on the opportunities that exist within NSF’s big idea, “Windows on the Universe”. This big idea seeks to expand investments in observational astronomy to provide new insights on the nature and behavior of matter and energy in the universe.
    • Dawn Tilbury, assistant director in the Directorate for Engineering, presented on the directorate’s activities. In a an effort to make engineering “the new liberal arts degree,” as the assistant director put it, the directorate has begun developing a pilot Advanced Placement engineering exam with that will be implemented in 2018 with credits accepted by colleges and universities in 2019.  One of the goals of this pilot is to help increase diversity in the discipline.  Board members raised concerns about how the directorate plans to address institutional culture and the lack of AP programs in underrepresented communities.
  • The awards, facilities and management committee presented on efforts to evaluate and strengthen oversight of NSF’s major research facilities. The board moved to create a senior adviser position whose sole responsibility will be to act as an accountability official and advise the NSF director.  The new adviser will work in concert with small governance boards to provide support to the director and monitor new and ongoing major research facility investments.
  • The NSB’s Science and Engineering Indicators draft was discussed during the science and technology committee’s open session, with the majority of the conversation revolving around a forthcoming chapter on innovation. Board members provided feedback on potential metrics of innovation, stressing that patent data alone would be an insufficient way to capture the breadth of innovation occurring.
  • Last month, members of the board traveled to Louisiana to hold listening sessions at Xavier University and Baton Rouge Community College. Those discussions covered diversity and inclusion and building a STEM-capable, technical workforce.  Stakeholders at the listening sessions addressed uneven teaching loads, inadequate undergraduate research experiences, and preparation shortfalls for students in associate degree and technical/vocational tracks.

The board formalized its charge to investigate NSF’s role on the skilled-technical workforce.  Earlier this year the NSB identified “blue collar STEM,” later renamed the “skilled technical workforce,” as an initiative of importance to sustaining the nation’s STEM-based economy.

Specifically, a task force will:

  • develop recommendations for addressing STEM issues at both the undergraduate/graduate levels and associate degree and technical/vocational levels,
  • work with stakeholders to advance activities,
  • develop and strengthen NSF’s initiatives in this space, and
  • work to destigmatize technical/vocational education.

Further emphasis was placed on apprenticeships.  In the coming months, the NSB will host additional listening sessions to receive feedback on this initiative as it evolves.

View presentations here.

View recordings of the open sessions here.

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