How to Begin Writing an NSF Proposal
– By Jon Juarez, co-PI HSI STEM Hub
The quote, “A work of writing is never completed, but merely abandoned,” has been attributed to many writers. Most certainly, many proposal writers feel the same way, even when their proposal is awarded. For new writers, the first question is always how to start.
If you are comfortable working alone, the web is a great resource to explore; however, be mindful of each site’s validity. Sites such as www.grants.gov and www.nsf.gov/awardsearch are reliable sources. You will want to research sample proposals, history of awards in your discipline, and different funding sources.
If you are a team-style writer, start by selecting a writing team. Keep in mind that this team most likely will serve as your co-PIs and other personnel. As your proposal takes shape, individuals may be added or dropped depending on the scope of the proposal as well as each individual’s availability. Meet regularly and, if necessary, create sub-teams based on interests and fields of expertise.
Be mindful of the submission deadline both for NSF and your institution. The best way to maintain time-on-task is to track deadlines and lead-times. Lead-times are extremely important when working with individuals external to your team. Finally, throughout the writing process, remember to have fun. Celebrate the successful submission with your team. Whether funded or not, you and your team will have learned much about the writing process. Each submission is always a win as well as an opportunity to learn for your next proposal.
Jon Juarez, co-PI HSI STEM Hub
Jon Juarez is a New Mexico State University Regents Professor and Chair of the Computer Information and Technology Department at Dona Ana Community College. He has authored eight database application textbooks published by McGraw-Hill. He serves as co-chair of the New Mexico Collegiate Business Articulation Consortium, board member of the New Mexico Association for Career and Technical Education, and member of NMSU College of Engineering Information Technology Degree Advisory Committee. He has served as the New Mexico Coordinator of Phi Theta Kappa National Honor Society.
Research and Evaluation Plans in an NSF Grant: How are they similar and different?
–By Kavita Mittapalli, Ph.D. – Edited by Christine Velez, Ph.D., and Margie Vela, Ph.D.
In general, National Science Foundation solicitations including HSI, ITEST, and S-STEM, require separate research and evaluation plans. It is important to be able to distinguish between the two and write both sections well for a competitive proposal.
Research vs Evaluation
Several fellow researchers and evaluators have done a tremendous job of explaining the differences between the two including: John LaVelle (AEA365 blog post ); Sandra Mathison’s book chapter; and Patricia Rogers’ Better Evaluation blog post.
Research and evaluation are conducted using similar data collection and analytic methods. The difference is in the intent or purpose and the audience to which results will be reported.
In essence, the research aspect of an NSF grant is intended to test a hypothesis and its results are generalizable in nature. Research measures participant-level metrics, mediating, and moderating factors in a study. Research asks: What’s so? How does it work? Typically, results are reported at the end of the research project and are meant to inform the field of study.
The evaluation aspect of an NSF grant particularizes as it is designed to improve the program itself. Evaluation assesses the value or merit of the program and asks the So what? and How well does it work? questions. Therefore, evaluation results should be provided to principal investigators, Co-PIs, other project leads, and major stakeholder groups throughout the life of the study, and not just at the end.
A research plan typically comprises:
- Hypothesis- The hypothesis can examine the intervention’s outcomes to measure participants’ achievements in STEM courses, training, careers/jobs, and the gain in knowledge that may be the result of the intervention(s). (Hint: If/Then)
- Research Question- The research question answers questions such as:
- What is….?
- How does….?
- In what ways do/es (a particular intervention) work?
- How does it show its intended effects on participants’/stakeholders’ cognition and/or affective behaviors?
- If and how participants’ background characteristics (e.g, demographics, academic performance measures, affective factors) play a role in decision making for choosing STEM majors, engaging in training opportunities, utilizing available resources, services, and careers/jobs when exposed to the intervention(s)?
- Study Plan- The study plan refers to the type of research design the researchers intend to use. It could be a single case pre-post design, a quasi-experimental design, or a randomized control trial. The study design will depend on the type of research questions that are being developed, the feasibility of undertaking a complex study, time, and budget among other factors.
- Analytical techniques- Analytical techniques comprise the types of analyses the researcher will undertake to derive findings from the study. Qualitative data collected via interviews, focus groups and other means would require coding the data to develop common themes to build narratives. Quantitative data can be analyzed using descriptive or predictive analyses which would depend on the data quality and quantity (e.g., sample size) and outcome measures that may require more complex analytical techniques.
An evaluation plan typically comprises:
- Evaluation Questions that begin with:
- To what extent…?
- With what fidelity…?
- Has an intervention and/or a program model been planned and implemented as intended?
- What worked (well) and what are the lessons learned?
- With what quality are the research activities planned and completed?
- What is the scope for a broader impact of the intervention/program model?
- Evaluation Approach/Design– Among other options, approaches include formative and summative evaluations.
- Formative evaluation, usually completed in the first 2 years of the grant, typically informs the attributes of the program such as adherence, delivery, and quality as proposed and provides just-in-time feedback to help improve the program in its formative stages of planning and implementation.
- Summative evaluation, usually completed in the latter years of the grant, focuses on the type and number of outputs or products as well as if the intended outcomes were achieved and how well. It also assesses the model of the program—its merit and broader impacts insofar as its viability to sustain beyond its funding cycle and/or scale up.
- Data Collection & Analytical Techniques- Data collection sources as well as analytical techniques are similar to the research plan and will depend on evaluation questions, feasibility of undertaking the study, budget, and time among other factors.As I envision, NSF grant proposal work is a triangle with including the PI/Co-PI (grant writer) at the top vertex with a researcher and an evaluator at the other two vertices working in close concert to plan and develop a winning proposal. Always plan to engage a researcher and an evaluator early and often!
Kavita Mittapalli, Ph.D.
MN Associates, Inc is a small, woman-owned education research and evaluation firm in Northern Virginia. MNA is headed by Kavita Mittapalli, Ph.D., who brings over 18 years of experience in conducting R & E work for various programs and initiatives across the country. She worked at various consulting firms before founding MNA in 2004. Kavita started her career in Agricultural Science before becoming an Applied Sociologist and a mixed methodologist with an interest in research design. She brings her multi-disciplinary skills and knowledge to all the work she does at MNA. She is supported by four team members who bring their very diverse backgrounds, academic training, and professional experiences to MNA. To date, MNA has evaluated 23 NSF grants in various tracks in addition to evaluating medium to large grants funded by other agencies (e.g., USDE, DOL, NASA, DODEA, and DOT). Kavita can be reached at Kavita@mnassociatesinc.com. Connect with her on LinkedIn (linkedin.com/in/kavitamittapalli) and on Twitter @KavitaMNA.
Connecting with students: Culture in the classroom
In academia, we are challenged with developing various skills in a short timeframe. Among other things, we are required to synthesize new information in our academic disciplines, learn and work quickly and efficiently, solve a plethora of problems, and improve our teaching, administrative, and leadership skills. Given that we are often operating under time constraints, we are sometimes forced to prioritize some skills over others. Interpersonal skills are oftentimes neglected due to competing priorities and the misconception that these skills come naturally. Achieving interpersonal competency in an academic setting is critical for engaging in teaching, collaborative work, work relationships, and complex work systems. Communication is central to building these interpersonal skills. This is particularly true in our work with students.
There are ways to communicate with our students with diplomacy, empathy, and respect that demonstrate our commitment to their success. As mentors, instructors, and professors, we are positioned to motivate and counsel students. It is important to remember that every student responds differently to different approaches. Every student’s perspective is the sum of their experiences, heritage, and culture, and connecting with each individual student can be enriched when we are responsive to these factors. Cultural competency and cultural humility can help bridge the gaps that may exist due to differences in experience, heritage and culture,.
Cultural competency as defined by Cross (Terry L. Cross et al., 1989), refers to the capacity of communicating and interacting with diverse ethnic, racial, religious, and socioeconomic groups. Communication is enhanced when all parties have an understanding of customs, beliefs, language, and values of the individuals engaged in the communication. Cultural competency fosters cultural humility, which involves continuous learning and listening to individuals, while recognizing existing biases,,,.
To engage cultural humility in the classroom, we should first effectively implement it in our daily lives. We must be willing to listen, learn, and introspect with an open mind. Cultural humility is an insightful journey as we begin to recognize our biases and acknowledge the social and cultural needs of others, including our students. This knowledge can have a substantial impact on how we relate, teach, and mentor. It reminds us that we do not know each student’s unique experience. It fosters our willingness to listen and understand as listening intently to understand will help bridge gaps and address disparities and implicit injustices. With it, we can better recognize racism, discrimination, and bullying within academic structures. As we invest heavily into developing our academic skills, our interpersonal development is important, a valuable asset, which allows us to become better educators,.
 Greene-Moton, Ella, and Meredith Minkler. “Cultural Competence or Cultural Humility? Moving Beyond the Debate.” Health promotion practice 21.1 (2020): 142-145.
 Nomikoudis, Milton, and Matthew Starr. “Cultural humility in education and work: A valuable approach for teachers, learners and professionals.” Universities, the Citizen Scholar and the Future of Higher Education. Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2016. 69-84.
 Cross, Terry L. “Towards a culturally competent system of care: A monograph on effective services for minority children who are severely emotionally disturbed.” (1989).
 Yeager, Katherine A., and Susan Bauer-Wu. “Cultural humility: Essential foundation for clinical researchers.” Applied Nursing Research 26.4 (2013): 251-256.
 Loue, Sana. “Using sociodrama to foster cultural humility among faculty and students in the academic medical center.” Revista Românească Pentru Educaţie Multidimensională 10.2 (2018): 45-57.
 Nomikoudis, Milton, and Matthew Starr. “Cultural humility in education and work: A valuable approach for teachers, learners and professionals.” Universities, the Citizen Scholar and the Future of Higher Education. Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2016. 69-84.
Edmundo Medina holds a medical degree from the Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juarez (UACJ), where he found a passion for understanding different biological mechanisms. For his Master’s thesis, he directed a project in the characterization of an ion channel in a heterologous expression system where he developed expertise with neural cell culture and whole-cell patch-clamp techniques. Currently, he is a Ph.D. candidate at New Mexico State University, focused on projects that combine his clinical knowledge with muscle cell culture and cannabinoid pathways for the treatment of neuromuscular diseases.
Brace Yourselves, Classes are coming!
-By Nicolas Mendez, Edited by Sonya Cooper, Ph. D.
With the beginning of fall semester classes, many universities are moving into an online platform to protect faculty, staff, and students from COVID-19. On our website, https://hsistemhub.org/, you will find many resources related to online teaching, transitioning labs into online classrooms, and tips on how to prepare classes and engage students in distance learning. This article summarizes and analyzes the presentation by National Blue-Ribbon Schools about addressing stakeholders in the education environment. The presentation discussed:
- How to stay connected with staff, students and parents: There is one word that best describes this situation, COMMUNICATION. Not all communication needs to take the form of a videocall, as many faculty members and students are zoom-exhausted and may not respond to a videocall. There are many apps listed on our website that can help you reach students through text, emails or giving feedback on an assignment. Many students and parents prefer these channels of communication. The important message is to communicate as often as possible about updated information and expectations that affect students.
- Training and supporting staff in distance instruction: The pandemic has changed many faculty members’ approach to teaching and the way they deliver lectures and instruction to their students. Some classes were more easily adapted to new models, but professors experienced roadblocks with some classes during the transition. One way to support this transition is to organize a video-training session (socially distanced) for technology integration for holding online lectures and engaging students in interactive lessons. Most universities have online instructional design staff who are available to work with instructors individually.
- Support students in distance learning: As previously mentioned, it is important to communicate constantly with students and set a schedule for lectures. Further, it may be helpful to give students a voice to recommend plans or approaches for the class. They could provide insight for the approaches that work for them that can improve class outcomes for individual students. Have one-on-one time with your students as time permits. This will show them that you value their individual success.
- Supporting parent engagement: Elementary, middle or even high school teachers are encouraged to contact parents and periodically communicate class plans. Parents should be partners for ensuring students stay focused and complete assignments. As such, it is important to consider that some undergraduate students are also living at home during this pandemic. It is important to abide by FERPA, however if you think you need an intervention to help a student succeed, consider asking the student if they would like for you to discuss a plan with their parents or guardians.
National Blue-Ribbon Schools focuses its efforts on education for K-12, however, the recommended actions can prove helpful for institutions of higher education. While implementing these activities will be different for every professor according to their classes, taking variations of these measures into consideration could be fruitful for supporting colleagues and students through this transition.
 National Blue Ribbon Schools. (2020). Effective Distance Learning Strategies. Retrieved from https://nationalblueribbonschools.ed.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/NBRS_Distance_Learning_Infographic_PRINT.pdf
 Sander, L., & Bauman, O. (2020, May 5). The Conversation. 5 reasons why Zoom meetings are so exhausting. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/5-reasons-why-zoom-meetings-are-so-exhausting-137404
Nicolas Mendez is a Master student in Industrial Engineering. He is from Bogota, Colombia and completed his Bachelor’s degree at La Salle University in 2018. During his professional career, he has worked in the pharmaceutical industry performing quality control, process analysis and cost evaluations. He is a member of the Recruitment Team for the Department of Industrial Engineering at New Mexico State University, working with middle and high school students to pursue a career in engineering. For his academic program he is working on research composites that will help to reduce waste in industry and re-use of environmental contaminant materials.
National Snapshot of the Hispanic Population
– By Margie Vela, Ph. D.
Demographics in the United States are changing rapidly. With this change, the make-up of the K-12 student population is increasingly Hispanic and multiracial. The Digest of Education Statistics predicts that percent white population of K-12 students will continue to decline through 2029, while percent Hispanic and multiracial student populations will continue to grow (Figure 1). These data are important predictors for the future populations of colleges and universities and give us a clear indication that we must work towards a more inclusive and equitable education system.
Figure 1. Data derived from the National Center for Education Statistics: Digest of Education Statistics. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d19/tables/dt19_203.50.asp.
Institutions of higher education are also increasing access to higher education for first-generation, low-income, and minority student populations. Yet recent educational attainment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that the percent of 25-year-old and older population in the Hispanic/Latinx community who achieve less than a high school diploma outpaces all other races. The Hispanic/Latinx population also has the lowest bachelor’s degree or higher educational attainment when compared with White, Black, and Asian populations, among others, in the U.S. See Figure 2.
Figure 2. Data derived from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2015/educational-attainment-and-occupation-groups-by-race-and-ethnicity-in-2014.htm.
Recent college enrollment demonstrates a growing number of Hispanic/Latinx students enrolling in 2- and 4- year institutions. A snapshot of U.S. demographics, as determined by the 2015 Census, indicates that colleges and universities across the country must continue to work towards a more diversified faculty, establish inclusive practices and policies, and improve educational outcomes for the changing student demographic.
Additionally, educators and administrators should take note of the high percentage of students engaged in the civilian workforce, who are currently employed while matriculating. According to current labor force statistics, the rate for Hispanic/Latinx 2019 high school graduates who were in the labor force in October of 2019 was higher than all other racial and ethnic groups considered for this study. Also noteworthy, is that Hispanic/Latino college students in this demographic who are also enrolled in college are participating in the labor force at the highest rate when compared to other races and ethnic groups considered for the study. This population also has the lowest rate of college enrollees not participating in the labor force. See figure 3. This indicates that Hispanic/Latinx students will seek employment while working on their degrees. It would serve this population well to be employed on campus in experiential learning, rather than working off-campus in non-academic service jobs. As educators and grant writers, we have an opportunity to fill this need through programs that give our students experience in their fields of study.
Figure 3. Data derived from Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/news.release/hsgec.t01.htm#
Without engaging complex statistical analysis for correlation or causation, we can safely assume that income and other socio-economic and family educational attainment factors may be considerations for understanding this trend of working while attending school. Hispanic/Latinx average weekly income earnings are the lowest of any other ethnic or racial group considered in the report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average weekly income of the Black population is slightly higher than the Latinx population in the U.S., and the disparity in the earnings of Hispanic/Latinx when compared to Whites and Asians is considerable, according to this report. See Figure 4.
Figure 4. Data derived from Bureau of Labor Statistics. News Release: Usual Weekly Earnings of Wage and Salary Workers, 2nd Quarter 2020. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/wkyeng.pdf.
Another factor to consider is the current degree attainment of the Latinx community as this not only gives us insight into how many students have a family member to help them navigate middle school advanced mathematics courses, high school course selection, and STEM in higher education (indicators of success in STEM majors), but also gives us an indication of the strength and effectiveness of the pipeline in STEM within higher education for Hispanic/Latinx students. See Figure 5 for the distribution of degrees conferred in the Hispanic/Latinx population as a percentage of total degrees conferred to U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
Figure 5. Data derived from the National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d18/tables/dt18_318.45.asp.
Additionally, a metric worthy of consideration is educational attainment within the total U.S. Hispanic population. Current Population Survey figures for 2018 report information as seen in Figure 6, which demonstrates an opportunity to strengthen the pipeline of Latinx and Hispanic completion at all educational levels. While these figures show a substantial improvement over 2015 U.S. Census figures, there is a prospect for increasing educational achievement.
Figure 6. Data derived from the Current Population Survey by the United States Census Bureau. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/cps/data/cpstablecreator.html.
The data reviewed in this snapshot, give us clear indications that we have work to do to improve educational and socio-economic outcomes for the Hispanic/Latinx population. The state of this population indicates that students in the Latinx community are positioned uniquely within the U.S. student population, and it is important to remember that students also have individual needs that cannot be determined by national statistics. It is imperative to take these data consideration when thinking about the best ways to serve the Hispanic population in general, and still consider the distinctive requisites of the students at your institution, and the individual students’ needs.
 National Center for Education Statistics, (2020). Digest of Education Statistics. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d19/tables/dt19_203.50.asp.
 Bureau of Labor Statistics, (2014). Educational Attainment and Occupation Groups by Race and Ethnicity in 2014. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2015/educational-attainment-and-occupation-groups-by-race-and-ethnicity-in-2014.htm.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, (2010). BLS Spotlight on Statistics: Back to College. Degree Attainment by Age 22. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/spotlight/2010/college/data.htm#nls
 Bureau of Labor Statistics, (2020). Economic News Release: Labor force status of 2019 high school graduates and 2018-2019 high school dropouts 16 to 24 years old by school enrollment, educational attainment, sex, race, and Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, October 2019. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/news.release/hsgec.t01.htm#
 Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2020). Economic News Release: Labor Status 2019. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/news.release/hsgec.t01.htm.
 Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2020). News Release: Usual Weekly Earnings of Wage and Salary Workers, 2nd Quarter 2020. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/wkyeng.pdf.
 National Center for Education Statistics. (2018). Digest of Education Statistics: 2018 Tables and Figures. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d18/tables/dt18_318.45.asp.
 United States Census Bureau. (2020). CPS Table Creator. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/cps/data/cpstablecreator.html.
Margie Vela holds a Ph.D. in Water Science and Management from New Mexico State University and is a USDA NIFA Fellow. Dr. Vela has devoted her career to diversifying STEM through supporting and training underserved students. Her contributions to broadening participation of underrepresented groups in STEM include serving Delaware State University as the Assistant Director for the Science and Mathematics Initiative for Learning Enrichment; performing analysis on broader impacts as a National Science Foundation Summer Scholar; and serving Child, Youth, and School Services for Fort Lee, Virginia as the Project Director for the HIRED! Program. She has also designed and lead workshops for college students and researchers on various topics including interdisciplinary research, complex socio-environmental problems, and college success. As a researcher, Dr. Vela has successfully engaged community-based research focused on the relationships of water inequity and educational attainment for communities on the Southern U.S. Border while mentoring and supporting three undergraduate researchers during her doctoral studies. Margie has served as a USAID volunteer consultant for rural organic farmers in Colombia for water use and organizational development.