Inside USD

NSF Grants Help USD Fund Its Present, Future

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

University of San Diego faculty members seem to do it all. They’ll teach multiple classes, work with students whom they know on a first-name basis, attend events and serve on committees to strengthen USD’s mission. It’s their daily routine to help prepare today’s students for the future. And, if that’s not enough, they also spend time finding ways to fund the future.

As early as 1966, USD faculty has successfully submitted grant proposals to the federally funded National Science Foundation (NSF). Faculty often utilizes one or multiple grants to fund small projects, purchase cutting-edge equipment and supplies, provide funds for student researchers, professional development and to support their ideas with tremendous local, national and global upside.

“I’ve been supported in multiple ways by NSF,” said Physics Department Chair and Professor Greg Severn (pictured, right), who has received grants off and on since 1990. “The NSF grant has made possible a very important curricular improvement, which is our upper-division experimental modern physics laboratory. The grant has made certain aspects of my job possible. This is true for the physics curriculum at USD, but also for my own research productivity. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to conduct basic, fundamental research in plasma physics.”

Mary Boyd, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, takes great pride in the broad scope of NSF funding at USD among her faculty and in collaborative efforts with the School of Law, the School of Leadership and Education Sciences (SOLES) and Engineering.

“Current NSF funding supports science students interested in teaching, funds climate change education, advances individual faculty research programs, fosters student interest in physics, mathematics and computer science, promotes our outreach efforts to K-12 students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and more,” Boyd said. “All of these NSF grants are tied directly to the teaching, research and service mission of the College.”

Learning about NSF, USD Connection

The goal of the NSF, established in 1950, has been to “encourage and develop a national policy for the promotion of basic research and education in math, physical, medical, biological, engineering and other sciences.”

In fiscal year 2010, NSF reported more than 55,000 proposals from university and college educators, non-profit organizations and other sources resulted in 13,015 NSF awards, of which 7,100 were research-specific. The average annual award amount was $167,052, the median $123,537 and the average duration of the research was 2.86 years.

The University of San Diego has 15 active NSF grants among the 66 it has been awarded since 1966, according to a data search on the NSF website. The active grants range between $79,000 for an engineering education project to just under $1 million for climate change awareness. Given the university’s propensity for seeking NSF funds, it comes as no surprise that USD hosted an NSF Day last month.

Secured through USD’s Office of Sponsored Programs, which assists faculty with grant submissions, the NSF Day was attended by various California college and university faculty and administrators. Participants learned about the organization, heard presentations on the proposal and merit review process, information about new and existing programs and attended breakout sessions for NSF’s various education disciplines.

“Our relationship with NSF is expanding and this helps strengthen it,” Executive Vice President and Provost Julie Sullivan said. “We have more faculty, in multiple disciplines, who are pursuing and securing funding now and, as a result, NSF program officers are beginning to know our faculty better.”

Though the event was a refresher course for many at USD, Associate Professor of Chemistry David De Haan said he learned more about funding a potentially new partnership project.

“I realized that NSF is very much ready to assist me in getting collaborative projects going, especially with people in other countries,” said De Haan, whose research focuses on air pollution and the influence of particles on climate. “I’ve been approached by an Israeli atmospheric scientist about a particular collaborative project and I see now that the NSF would probably be a good place to get funding.”

Working Together at USD

Collaboration on NSF grant proposals among USD faculty is on the rise and has been quite successful.

Michel Boudrias, department chair and professor in Marine Science and Environmental Studies, was chiefly involved in one of the latest successes. He’s the lead scientist on that nearly $1 million award for climate change awareness. Called the Climate Change Education Partnership, the USD School of Law’s Energy Policy Initiative Center is also assisting with this project.

Eric Page, a versatile physics professor, has been part of two major NSF collaborative grants in the past two years. He anchored a $900,000 award through NSF’s Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program to train 12 new math and science teachers to work in San Diego Unified School District high schools. Students chosen get up to $22,500 per year in education scholarship support for three years. The five-year grant was a collaborative effort between CAS and SOLES faculty members.

“We were ecstatic to get it,” Page said. “What really made it work, I thought, was how well we worked as a team. There was a wonderful collaborative environment between the sciences and SOLES. Dean Boyd and (SOLES) Dean (Paula) Cordeiro were both extremely supportive.”

Page was a co-principal investigator on a $598,000 NSF grant with faculty in mathematics, computer science and physics. It’s designed to attract top students with diverse backgrounds to major in one of the three disciplines. It covers 18 students — nine arrived this last fall and another nine will enter in fall 2011 — providing each with $7,500 per year in scholarship aid, a supportive cohort throughout the undergraduate years, faculty mentoring, participation in interdisciplinary research and more.

Creating Opportunities

Krishelle Hardson-Hurley ’10 was the first USD student accepted into the Noyce program. An Honors Program standout and double major in Mathematics Education and Spanish, Hardson-Hurley went right into the Master’s program in Mathematics and Science Technology Studies through SOLES. She’s currently teaching Algebra and Spanish classes at Point Loma High and did student teaching last year at University City High.

“I’m not sure where I would be without the Noyce scholarship,” she said. “I always planned to go to graduate school, but the grant expedited my plans. The scholarship made it possible to further my education in math education. I’m able to continue learning the philosophies behind math education as I simultaneously field test what I learn in my classroom. It’s very important that teachers stay current with the literature and theories of education and the Noyce scholarship has allowed me to do so.”

The NSF’s grant categories continue to expand and emphasize proposals that broaden education and diversity. Two recent USD grants show the university is ahead of the curve.

Peter Iovine, associate professor of chemistry, received a special five-year, $475,000 Faculty Early Career Development CAREER Award in February 2008 just prior to becoming a tenured professor. Considered NSF’s top award to support early career development of teacher-scholars who integrate research and education, Iovine considers it “a badge of honor.”

Iovine’s persistence was important. “You only get three tries before you get tenure so I was up against the clock,” he said. He submitted two previous proposals, but when he finally secured the prestigious grant he wasted no time.

Iovine developed a spring 2010 class called “Beyond the Lab: Science and Scientists in the Public Domain.” He partnered his students with Linda Vista’s Bayside Community Center and its K-6 after-school participants (see pictures). Together, they built a small garden and tracked plant growth and built scale models of planets for a solar system project.

“Service-learning opportunities in a major such as sociology or the humanities is obvious, but it isn’t as obvious in the sciences,” Iovine said.

Back in his classroom, Iovine helps his students learn about becoming a complete scientist. “Students learn more about what it means to be a scientist, such as learning about science legislation like the America Competes Act. I brought in a science writer to speak to them, showing them how, as scientists, they can better explain science. Each student also created a podcast on a science topic.”

Iovine said he’s currently working on a new NSF proposal to model the class into a national program. He has enlisted the help of USD’s Community Service-Learning Director Chris Nayve and Judith Liu, a sociology professor and CSL’s faculty liaison.

Three USD engineering faculty members secured an 18-month, $185,000 grant to assist with the recruitment of military veteran students to its program. The post-9/11 GI Bill and Yellow Ribbon Program bring the cost of getting a high-quality education down and USD offers a tuition discount for veterans.

“I’ve spent a lot of my life very concerned about trying to broaden participation and help underrepresented groups,” said Susan Lord, electrical engineering professor and coordinator, who teamed with colleagues Kathleen Kramer and Rick Olson. “I’m very interested in getting people with all different perspectives. I think engineering has very difficult problems and we need to have lots of different people with bright minds working on them. I see veterans also giving us a potential for significant racial diversity because more veterans come from a wider racial mix than our traditional students.”

Sue Kemnitzer, an NSF representative in its engineering division, said USD was one of 18 to receive NSF funding for veterans projects and praised its engineering program.

“We looked for partners like USD, in particular, because of location,” Kemnitzer said. “But your president (Mary E. Lyons) is a retired U.S. Navy Reservist and she understands the need and can help set the tone. Your engineering program is different than most other engineering schools because it requires broader liberal arts study as well as the deep technical expertise. Veterans who are returning now are going to be leaders; they’ve already been leaders and we need them in engineering because it requires leadership skills, teamwork skills and technical skills. USD’s program, I think, can appeal to these people who already have broader experience and it will value them in a way that is very unique.”

Visionary faculty, with the support of NSF, is one more way to assist students in developing them to make a difference in the future.

— Ryan T. Blystone

Student photos courtesy of Peter Iovine

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