Social, Behavioral Scientists Eligible to Apply for NSF S-STEM Grants

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Solicitations are now being sought for the National Science Foundation’s Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics program, and in an unheralded change, social and behavioral science now is included in the outreach.

The program, known as S-STEM, has been around in some form since the passage of the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act in 1998. That far-reaching legislation included a provision to ensure there were enough workers in critical scientific areas by offering scholarships “to enable low-income students with academic ability, talent or potential to pursue successful careers in promising STEM fields.” The current solicitation is for institutions and principal investigators to obtain grants to support the program through consortia, capacity building and single-institution initiatives that support S-STEM’s work.

Earlier solicitations named the fields in which S-STEM operated, and social and behavioral science did not make the list: “Eligible programs of study are the biological science (except medicine and other clinical fields), physical sciences, mathematical sciences, computer and information sciences, the geosciences, and engineering, as well as technology areas associated with the preceding fields (FR Doc. 05-2602).”

That explicit exclusion is no longer present. As the current solicitation explains, “Initially, scholarships were only provided for students in math, engineering, and computer science. Later legislation authorized NSF to expand the eligible disciplines at the discretion of the NSF director. This revised solicitation expands the eligibility of degrees to most disciplinary fields in which NSF provides research funding … as long as there is a national or regional demand for professionals with those degrees to address the long-term workforce needs of the United States.”

Those fields are specified as “disciplinary fields in which research is funded by NSF” and “technology fields associated with the S-STEM-eligible disciplines (e.g., biotechnology, chemical technology, engineering technology, information technology).” So while the new solicitation does not explicitly mention social and behavioral science, the Directorate of Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences is one of seven directorates at NSF supporting research and education. (For those keeping score the exceptions for S-STEM eligibility are clinical degree programs and most business school programs focusing on business administration.)

The change in language was not accidental. Members of the council at the Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences worked specifically to identify the earlier exclusion and broaden the eligibility.

NSF estimates it will make 75 to 90 awards from this solicitation based on funding to range from $80 million to $120 million. The deadline to apply is February 22, 2022.

For those interested in applying under the latest solicitation, check out the program webpage. NSF promises to host webinars in which key features and expectations of the S-STEM program will be discussed.

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