America COMPETES and Broader Impacts:  Preparing a Competitive National Science Foundation Proposal

National Science Foundation logo
National Science Foundation logo

Towson, Md. (February 9, 2011): The National Science Foundation (NSF) has traditionally used two merit review criteria in determining which proposals are and are not funded:  intellectual merit and broader impacts.  Addressing the intellectual merit criterion is straightforward; investigators describe their research, explaining its need and its impact on the field. The broader impacts criterion is more difficult to address.  In the past, investigators have been able to show impact through publishing and through presenting to colleagues at scientific meetings.  Dissemination to other scientists is no longer sufficient, in and of itself, in addressing the broader impacts criterion; reviewers are now looking for outreach to and impact on the broader public rather than solely for impacts on the scientific community.
Achieving broad impacts under NSF-funded projects is a priority for the Obama administration.  The America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (H.R. 1516) requires the NSF to apply this review criterion to achieve specific goals, including to increase the economic competitiveness of the United States; develop a globally competitive science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) work force; increase the participation of women and other underrepresented groups in STEM; increase partnerships between academia and industry; improve pre-K through 12 STEM education and teacher development; improve undergraduate STEM education; increasing public scientific literacy; and increase national security. 
Towson University is very well poised to convince NSF reviewers that its projects will make a broad impact, as its investigators are especially experienced in, and skilled at, activities that reviewers see as being of great impact, as described in NSF guidance on activities that address the broader impacts criterion:

• Integrating research into STEM teaching, at the pre-K-12, undergraduate, and graduate levels
• Including students as participants in proposed activities
• Making campus visits and presentations at institutions that serve underrepresented groups
• Identifying and establishing collaborations between disciplines and institutions
• Involving the public or industry in research and education activities
• Giving science and engineering presentations to the broader community

According to Jonathan Lazar, professor of Computer and Information Sciences and a previous and current NSF principal investigator, Towson University faculty members applying to NSF need only look at what the university is already doing to address this criterion.  “As a university focused on civic engagement, we have expertise in projects focusing on broader impacts. This is the core of who we are.  ‘Broader impacts’ means service learning.  It means STEM education.  It means applied research.  It means partnering with hospitals and medical providers. It means focusing on practical outcomes for the community.” 

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