teaching machines

NSF S-STEM Rejection

Last year I submitted a proposal for the National Science Foundation’s S-STEM scholarship program. Our intent was to provide scholarships for women to attend my university and pursue degrees in math or computer science. It was not funded, but I got some helpful direction for revising it and resubmitting. In our revision, we opened up the program to women pursuing any STEM major. The scholars would take our introductory programming class and receive mentorship from other women who have taken the class.

This second proposal has been reviewed and also was not funded. Apparently the proposal violates the solicitation: we cannot award scholarships only to women. I really wish I’d known that last year. I might not have resubmitted. Ahh, well. Below are the reviews.

Cover Letter

Dear Dr. Johnson:

Thank you for your interest in the Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM) Program. As indicated in an e-mail that you will receive from the Division Director or Deputy Division Director of NSF’s Division of Undergraduate Education, this proposal could not be funded within this year’s budget for the NSF Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM) Program. We regret to inform you of this decision.

Your proposal was reviewed by a panel of professionals with expertise in the various aspects of the S-STEM scholarship program. The reviews, together with the program officer’s evaluation of the proposal, were a major factor in our decision not to fund the proposal. Please understand that individual reviewers’ comments do not necessarily reflect NSF’s policy or position.

Reviewers included valid points regarding the program’s focus on women and the accompanying details which would be inappropriate for S-STEM submission. The panel believed the proposal stated clear intentions, however, there were questions about elements of the implementation including cohort execution, timeline for activities, and project evaluation. Plans to generate knowledge are not clear; multiple reviewers felt that the research process and questions to be vague and in need of development. The dissemination plan is inadequate in that only one sentence of the brief dissemination section of the proposal actually addresses dissemination of the project results, especially results of the study accompanying the project. The dissemination plan can be strengthened by including specific venues for publication (with appropriate budget request, where applicable) and identifying and describing innovative avenues to share outcomes locally and with the larger community.

We appreciate your interest in undergraduate STEM education.


Panel Summary

This project seeks to provide S-STEM support to STEM majors with a computational component to their STEM studies. The proposal calls for the support of women through the S-STEM scholarship. Students will receive among other supports, mentoring through an introductory CS course, a learning community in a residence hall, a public speaking seminar and career/grad prep and a cross-discipline community.

Intellectual Merit

Strengths

There is a clear plan that is well articulated. The design calls for a novel cross-discipline approach to infuse computational thinking into student’s study, even if they are outside the computer science department. This approach could be useful for thinking about how to develop CS curriculum in a variety of disciplines.

Weaknesses

The proposal acknowledges that tokenizing women is a risk of these programs and seems to address this in the proposal. However, by creating a program that is exclusive to women, the project maybe defeating this purpose in its design. Panelists suggest that focusing on women may not be the best approach, with one panelist stating that “this has been done and we haven’t seen the efficacy. It just delays the exit point.”

Though the plan is strong, the panel sought greater clarity from about what students are doing at various points of their academic experience. The proposal could also be strengthened by providing more detail about how the cohort will be maintained after the first year.

Broader Impacts

Strengths

This project will bring more women into computing. Enrolling more women in the introductory computer science courses could lead to a cultural shift that makes these courses more accessible to all students.

Weaknesses

The sentence “Certainly we aim to eliminate the sewage that women encounter while at our university” was off-putting and made us wonder if this proposal could be enough to disrupt that culture; and in fact found the language to be counterproductive to the desired outcome of creating a more supportive environment.

The evaluation plan could be tied to objectives and goals more strongly.

Solicitation Specific Criteria

Weaknesses

This proposal calls for the exclusive support of women. Given that the S-STEM program requirements call for all students with financial need and academic talent be considered for the program it is out of compliance.

Summary

The panel felt that overall with some more clarification this is a proposal for a worthy undertaking but it currently does not fully fit under the S-STEM program given the exclusive nature of the cohort. The panel is concerned that the theoretical underpinnings and supports in place are built to particularly support women, and opening the scholarship to men will not be a sufficient fix. This proposal may look to other funding streams for example the STEM+C, IUSE and/or the anticipated INCLUDES program.

Data Management Plan

The panel reviewed the proposal’s data management plan and found it to be acceptable.

Post Mentoring Plan

N/A

Statement of Panelists Support for Summary Statement

The summary was read by the panel, and the panel concurred that the summary accurately reflects the panel discussion.


Review 1

Rating: Good

In the context of the five review elements, please evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal with respect to intellectual merit.

This project seeks to provide S-STEM support to STEM majors with a computational component to their STEM studies. The proposal calls for the support of women through the S-STEM scholarship. Students will receive among other supports, mentoring through an introductory CS course, a learning community in a residence hall, a public speaking seminar and career/grad prep. If successful, the project will establish a cross-discipline academic community. The supports are designed based on the literature addressing female success in STEM/CS fields. Because the women are not majoring in CS fields, they need to be reached through other avenues. This project seeks to do so by providing students with a computer science mentor and research opportunities in partnership with their faculty advisor. The project seems to have a strong recruitment effort with a focus on providing a personal connection to the perspective scholars. The application will include a review of an essay and resume that will be used for selecting scholars. The project has identified a host of supports for students that will develop personal relationships, foster academic success and engage students in research/career preparation.

In the context of the five review elements, please evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal with respect to broader impacts.

The scholarship will create a cross-discipline community of women in STEM who utilize computing in their work. The project provides career preparation and exposure. The evaluation plan can be strengthened by being more specific, but it does suggest that understanding how the experience of women in STEM majors taking the introductory CS course the CS department change their culture/course more broadly and affect all students in the course. The project does not otherwise offer a clear research plan and corresponding dissemination strategy. Students will be disseminating their own research findings through conference attendance, posters and presentations.

Please evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal with respect to any additional solicitation-specific review criteria, if applicable.
Strengths
  • Using S-STEM as a way to broaden exposure to computing
  • Developing a cross-discipline community
  • Learning community
  • A theoretical model to guide the program
  • Potential impact on the computer science department more generally to improve the appeal and retention of women and other students in CS.
  • Encouraging (early) research with a faculty and their CS mentor
  • Connecting students with professionals to share their stories (networking lunches, conferences, research, STEM club visits)
Weaknesses
  • Focus on women is not allowed.
  • the management team does not specify who will be providing the mentoring to the scholars and who will be responsible for connecting students with the appropriate academic supports as needed. The proposal states these supports will be integrated but does not explain who will manage this task.
  • Evaluator is not external to the university. Since the project is so cross-disciplinary it may be difficult to find someone as impartial as needed. Additionally, the ‘external’ evaluator will be meeting with students at the end of the academic year which may limit the opportunities to make mid-course corrections.
  • It is commendable that the pI will be so closely tied to the project participants, however this is not an evaluation strategy.
  • No STEM coordinator
Summary Statement

This is a compelling proposal with a clear strategy for reaching more women and supporting them in computing. The S-STEM program, however, precludes offering the scholarship to specific demographic groups. Should the project make scholarships available to all students it will be in compliance, however the justification for the project model assumes female participation. The proposers would need to consider how their plan may be affected should they open it to all students.

As proposed, the theory behind the project structure and supports is sound, and will likely create a strong community. The proposal would be strengthened by a more specific research and evaluation plan and a plan for disseminating project-wide findings. In particular, it would be valuable to share broadly the lessons learned about developing a cross-discipline community and providing foundational computing courses a way of broadening participation in computing while not requiring students to be in the major.


Review 2

Rating: Poor

In the context of the five review elements, please evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal with respect to intellectual merit.

This is an interesting proposal for increasing the number of women in STEM, through support, including common housing. It is worth trying.

In the context of the five review elements, please evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal with respect to broader impacts.

It would benefit society if it worked, by increasing the number of women in STEM.

Please evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal with respect to any additional solicitation-specific review criteria, if applicable.
Strengths
  • Institutional needs well-documented
Weaknesses
  • The program is to be for all, not just women
Summary Statement

This program is an interesting proposal to Create an active learning and support community of women in STEM, including housing, common first year courses, etc.

It is totally focused on women. Unless that can be changed so that it is for all groups, it needs to be rejected. I don’t think that is possible, and other avenues of funding should be sought.


Review 3

Rating: Fair

In the context of the five review elements, please evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal with respect to intellectual merit.
Strengths

The Pi-Team has identified some interesting data about the female students at their university that they wish to follow up with in their research.

Concerns

The research process and questions is specified loosely, with three questions identified that they wish to ask students. This process should be formalized better.

In the context of the five review elements, please evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal with respect to broader impacts.
Strengths

The PI-Team is looking to increase diversity in STEM in their university.

Concerns

The S-STEM program is not designed to be oriented to a single minority. Therefore, this proposal needs to be reconsidered in that context with support for female participants. However, one of my biggest concerns is that the PI-Team describes some of the experiences of women in STEM at their university as sewage. While it is commendable for them to try to mitigate the experience for the female students, with the new S-STEM structure, PI-Teams have more freedom to invest in support for the students. If the culture is so concerning, it would have been appropriate to include some culture shifting activities such as workshops for faculty with some financial motivator. Moreover, it would also be interesting to include male students in an activity or the seminar series in a way where they could also be impacted by the culture challenges female STEM students face daily.

Please evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal with respect to any additional solicitation-specific review criteria, if applicable.
Summary Statement

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire proposes the AND program, which has been structured for a female-only scholarship program to increase the female participation in STEM majors at the university. The PI-Team looks to create support structures for these students and better understand their motivation in pursuing STEM majors.


Review 4

Rating: Very Good

In the context of the five review elements, please evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal with respect to intellectual merit.

The proposed project seeks funds to provide financial support to women pursuing STEM majors with a computational component at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire. Services offered to the scholars will include mentored participation in an introductory computer science course, a STEM-themed learning community in a residence hall, a 1-credit public speaking seminar, financial support for service learning projects that serve the scholars’ home school districts, the community of several women in science student groups, support in identifying and attending academic conferences and graduate schools, career and interview training, visits from alumna who work or study in a STEM discipline, annual campus luncheons for women in STEM, and resources to engage in faculty-student collaborative research.

The proposed activity cuts across disciplinary boundaries. Scholars will have the opportunity to share and experience their diverse backgrounds as they participate in an introductory programming course, a public speaking seminar, a residential learning community, and collaborative research. Scholars will regularly learn about disciplines besides their own and discover connections. Of particular importance is the scholars’ participation in an introductory programming course, which has the potential to heighten scholars’ abilities to simulate, analyze, and reason computationally.

In the context of the five review elements, please evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal with respect to broader impacts.

The following services of the proposed project have an explicit focus on impacting society: career preparation workshops will introduce more women into the STEM workforce, a public speaking seminar will provide scholars an opportunity to strengthen their communication skills, service learning projects will foster relationships between scholars and their home communities, collaborative research will elevate the scholars’ career and graduate school opportunities, and a STEM-themed learning community will establish a student community oriented toward STEM learning.

Please evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal with respect to any additional solicitation-specific review criteria, if applicable.
Summary Statement

The themes of this proposed activity is what strengthens its potential impact. The themes include: (1) intersectional (the focus on the interdisciplinary aspect of computation); (2) relational (social connections with peers, faculty and the community); and (3) Normal (the emphasis on gender-neutral subject matter). The fact that scholars will form a cohort is also a strong aspect of the proposed activity. The required 1-credit seminar, the annual networking lunch, and the community service project in the Scholar’s hometown are great additions to the proposed activity. The reviewer also really appreciates the topics for the 1 page summary required as part of the application process.The project team is well-qualified to carry out the goals of this activity and the university is well-positioned to support the objectives. The project team should include how they will address the issue of intersectionality. Women who are from ethnic minority groups may have very different needs than White female students.

Overall, I give this proposed activity a rating of VG.


Review 5

Rating: Good

In the context of the five review elements, please evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal with respect to intellectual merit.

The proposed program seeks to support women in STEM majors with computational components. It builds on prior successful S-STEM and CSEMS awards. However, it is not clear what lessons learned have informed this proposed program.

The proposal includes a comprehensive program to support women in STEM with inclusion of many of the best practices in co-curricular activities shown to be effective in student success (retention and graduation). These are well thought-out.

The approach to infuse computational components into STEM majors, rather than focusing directly on women in computing, is novel and has potential to be an approach that can be adopted across institutions. However, there is a missed opportunity to study the hypothesis, which has the potential to contribute new knowledge. Also the proposal would be strengthened with additional grounding in the literature in the rationale for selection of program components.

The details of the implementation plan are not clear. What would the students be doing when, especially beyond first year? How will cohort be maintained after first year?

The evaluation plan is not directly tied to objectives.

A concern is that women cannot be targeted exclusively in the S-STEM program. The S-STEM criteria for selecting students is financially-needy and academically talented. Programs can recruit to encourage student populations underrepresented in STEM, such as women, to apply and participate, thus increasing the number of these student populations participating in the program. The concern is that programs are deeply rooted in focusing exclusively on women students that this cannot be unbundled to allow for other students (such as LLC).

In the context of the five review elements, please evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal with respect to broader impacts.

This program would support a significant number of women in STEM (20-25 per year?) through strong support programs that would address their needs. It also includes ties to the students’ home communities, which could extend potential impacts there. The dissemination plan is standard.

Please evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal with respect to any additional solicitation-specific review criteria, if applicable.
Summary Statement

This is a well-developed program aim to provide comprehensive support to women in STEM majors with computational components. There are opportunities to strengthen the implementation and evaluation plans, as well as further develop the research plan. However, there is concern that this proposal exclusively targets women STEM students, which is not within the scope of the S-STEM program. It is not clear that this program can allow for a broader student population while maintaining the overall strength of the program since some components are meant to address the challenges of women STEM students specifically.


Review 6

Rating: Poor

In the context of the five review elements, please evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal with respect to intellectual merit.

These scholarships are only available to women – is this legal? Clearly, a scholarship that is only available to men would not be legal.

The proposers mention that they wish to avoid making their project “girly” or “tokenizing”, but having a scholarship that only women may apply for would seem to do just that – it implies that women need special help to complete a STEM major. If increasing diversity within STEM is the goal (an excellent goal!), then the essay described in the proposal should be enough to choose scholars.

In the context of the five review elements, please evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal with respect to broader impacts.

As the scholarships are only available to women, the broader impacts are necessarily limited.

Please evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal with respect to any additional solicitation-specific review criteria, if applicable.

Scholarships are available only to women – this would seem to violate the spirit (if not the letter) of the solicitation.

Summary Statement

Gender-specific scholarships do not fall within the solicitation.

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