Friday, May 27, 2011

Really, There are More First Round Awards …

In previous blog posts, I had announced both project awards and undergraduate scholarships as part of our First Round of 2011-12 awards.  We in the INSGC office continue to evaluate the proposals that have been submitted against our funding constraints.  There is no difference in priority or quality between the previously announced awards and the ones listed below. 

Our graduate fellowship awards are intended to support student pursuing a Master’s degree (with or without a thesis), or a PhD / EdD (dissertation research proposal required).  These awards are much larger than the $1500 undergraduate awards, and there are fewer affiliates with eligible students.  It’s not surprising, then, that the total number of fellowships is seven students:

Master’s Fellowships:

Name                                                Affiliate                                    Major
Galen Harden                                  Purdue WL                     Aeronautics and Astronautics
Corie Moore                                    Ball State                        Middle School Math Education
Helena Olatunji-Fleming                 Purdue WL                     Interdisciplinary Engineering
Adam Prise                                      ISU                                Geography

Doctoral Fellowships:

Name                                    Affiliate                        Major           
Jessica Dowell              IU-Bloomington            Astronomy
Dennis Lamenti            IU-Bloomington            Astronomy
Matthew Wierman        Purdue WL                    Aeronautics and Astronautics

Additional Projects:

In addition to the awards previously announced, INSGC is pleased to be able to support the following projects for 2011-12:

Project PI                        Affiliate                        Project
Martin Fisher                  Science Central            Outreach To Space
Elizabeth Rubens            IUPUI                         Multidisiciplinary Undergrad Research Institute

In some cases, revisions of budgets and changes in the statements of work can overcome previous concerns raised in the review process.  In other cases, we just need clarification of what the proposed means to do and when.  Sometimes, the reviews just take a couple extra days to get back to us.  We don’t want to hold up the entire awarding process for everyone to wait for these elements, so some awards may be announced on slightly different schedules. 

Again, congratulations to these INSGC awardees, joining the other students, faculty, and project staff that are part of the first round of 2011-12 awards.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Selected in the First Round…

Now that the announcements have been distributed, the INSGC staff can take a bit of a breath and survey the first set of scholarship, fellowship, and internship awards for 2011-12.  Since the official name of the Space Grant NASA program is “The National Space Grant College Scholarship and Fellowship Program,” you can correctly guess that scholarships and fellowships are a major focus of what we do and why we exist.  In fact, there are only a few non-negotiable elements of how INSGC spends its NASA funds, and almost all of them are tied directly to the scholarship and fellowship piece.  NASA requires us to spend 25% of our total budget on scholarships and fellowships; for us in INSGC, these fellowships also involve opportunities at NASA Centers. 

INSGC is also quite fortunate to have a population of excellent students at a range of institutions, so there are of course challenges associated with giving out awards to the most deserving students.  The NASA internships are the easiest—the student has to apply to one or more NASA Centers, and then they have to be selected by researchers at those Centers.  Having said “the easiest,” that doesn’t make the process easy.  In 2011, there were 71 students from eligible Indiana institutions (only students from our 12 academic affiliates are eligible for funding) who applied to NASA internship positions through the online website system.  Approximately 12 were selected (this is already an acceptance rate of less than 20%), but of those, roughly half had other offers (either positions outside of NASA, or NASA opportunities that did not require INSGC funding).  Thus, we have a total of six outstanding students involved in NASA summer internships.  Each of them receives a summer fellowship stipend, and a travel allowance of $500. Their names, schools, and NASA Center placements are below:

Student                               Affiliate                        NASA Center
James Cutright                     Ball State               Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC)
Adam Harden                       Purdue WL            Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC)
Timothy Harris                     Purdue WL            Langley Research Center (LRC)
Paul Johnson                        Purdue WL            Johnson Space Center (JSC)
Nicholas Kowalczyk            Purdue WL            Johnson Space Center (JSC)
Kevin Tait                             Purdue WL            Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC)

I know what you’re thinking—why all the Purdue folks?  Well, students at Purdue know that the best way to work at NASA is to get an internship at NASA, and they tell each other to apply.  Of the 71 students from Indiana, 57 were Purdue students—so, the acceptance rate is still pretty low, and thus being selected for a NASA internship for INSGC funding is still a highly competitive process.  In most cases, those students will be starting their internships next week—as you might guess, that was our highest priority to set up those awards as we received selection information from NASA.

The scholarship process is even more complex.  With 12 academic affiliates, and a variety of disciplines, it can be hard to get a good mix of students.  Sometimes, I feel like it’s a bad thing to encourage more competition, only to say “no” to more students.  But, as we see more and more applicants from across the range of INSGC colleges and universities, the value of an INSGC undergraduate scholarship or Master’s fellowship goes up.  (I won’t talk about the doctoral fellowships here, because the number of eligible institutions is so much smaller; it’s not the same process, or discussion.)  We try to keep the scholarships at a level that is large enough to mean something at every institution, but small enough that we can award a decent number across all of our affiliates.  Over the past three or so years, that level is $1500—enough to be worth at least a year’s worth of books at any school.  That enables us to award at least 25 undergraduate scholarships overall, and at least one to each of the academic affiliates who have more than one applicant. 

This list starts looking more like the list of a sports network’s mock draft projections, and in a way, that’s a good analogy.  A scholarship isn’t proof that the student will do well in a particular major or at a specific school, but it is our guess.  We’re making a bet that these are good folks, who are likely to excel.  We at INSGC want to be part of this process, and we hope that our support helps them be more successful.  So, the first round picks, with name, year, affiliate, and major, are:

Last Name
First Name
Mathematics/ Secondary Education (double-major)
Electrical Engineering
Computer Engineering
Dibble II
Computer Science
Construction Engineering Technology
Mathematics Teaching: Secondary Education
Electrical Engineering & Computer Engineering
Computer Science Honors
Biomedical Engineering
Mechanical engineering
Mechanical Engineering Technology
Agricultural Engineering
Chemistry and Biology
Aeronautical Engineering
Physics and Astronomy
Mechanical Engineering
Secondary Mathematics Education
Computer Science
Biomedical Engineering

Next month, I will be in Jasper to congratulate four new winners of the Grissom Memorial Scholarships for local high school seniors attending Purdue in STEM majors.  I am proud of our opportunity to supplement those students’ scholarships with INSGC scholarship awards, and provide an ongoing recognition of the spacefaring legacy that Gus Grissom has left for all of us in Indiana.

We’re still processing the details of Master’s and Doctoral Fellowships; stay tuned for more on each of those students.  I should also point out that, if you’re not a first round selection for the undergraduate or graduate awards, that doesn’t automatically mean you’re rejected.  There are possibilities for additional funding augmentations, and our assumptions are that we will be funding additional students.  We just don’t have those numbers yet.

So, if you’re on one of these lists, or you’ve been an awardee in the past, we want to hear from you and let us know how you’re doing and whether INSGC has made a difference. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

And the Winners Are...

Finally, there is a list of initial announcements for INSGC 2011-12 grant awards.  Your INSGC staff has been working on both the selection process, and the funding allocation process, to help identify a set of projects that are both of high quality and time sensitivity to make our first set of awards for this year.  As I indicated in a previous blog entry, this doesn't mean that this is all the awards of the year, or that we hated every other project.  This is our First Round of awards.  Our selection process has to speak to a representation of multiple consortium priorities and needs for our NASA portfolio, as well as a simple logistics issue--some of you need to get started right away.

If you ever hear people talk about football teams during draft time (and since the NFL Combine is held in Indianapolis, it's hard to get away from that), there's always a discussion of "draft to position" (pick the best one available within a previously defined area) and "best available athlete" (select an outstanding talent, even if you don't need someone in that area).  NASA's Education Outcomes and funding limitations mean that we sometimes draft to position more than I'd like--I remember one year when almost all of our graduate fellowship applicants were so outstanding, I thought I'd gotten confused with the faculty applicants.  We can't just fund PhD students, or astronomers, or people from a specific campus.  There's got to be variety and range across the various emphases of higher education, K-12 education, and informal education.

However, you should also see some important common threads in these awards.  Without question, our most significant commitment in terms of numbers is to undergraduate students.  (That's good--Space Grant is a Higher Education program, after all.)  Our initial scholarship awards to over 20 undergraduates are supplemented by the following projects which highlight undergraduate research:

  • Bandla, Purdue WL: Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunity
  • Edwards, Indiana U: Summer Scholars Institute
  • Hrivnak / Kaitchuk, Ball State / VU: Undergraduate Astronomy Research
  • MATE Team, Purdue WL: Undersea ROV Competition
  • Rengstorf, Purdue Cal: Undergraduate Research Grants Program
  • Sevener, Valparaiso:  Undergrad Research in High Temperature Materials
  • Story, Purdue WL: Purdue Research Opportunities
  • Takehara, Taylor:  TU Wind Turbines Model Testing

The following projects, while addressing faculty research interests, also have significant undergraduate components:

  • Dick, Valparaiso:  Genetic components of circadian rhythms
  • Ericson, IPFW: Metabolomics to improve health for long duration space flight
  • Watters, Valparaiso: Filamentous fungi to convert waste into protein

I am also very pleased to see a continually increasing quality of K-12 projects, addressing both student experiences and teacher professional development activities.  The First Round awards for 2011-12 in these areas include:

  • Abramowitz, Purdue Cal: Materials Camp for Teachers
  • Groh, Purdue WL: Innovation to Reality (I2R) Afterschool STEM projects for Middle School
  • Perry, IUPUI: Nanotechnology Summer Teacher Fellows Program

The following projects have combinations of research, undergraduate education, and K-12 outreach components that are somewhat like, and yet differently contributing to, other items in our portfolio.

  • Barrington / Slavin, Ball State / Purdue Cal: Study of interacting spherical stellar systems
  • Harvey, State Museum: Omniglobe software and content upgrades

 Not bad, for a start.

Friday, May 13, 2011

New Year's Day?

After our first week of real warm weather here in Indiana this spring, we at the INSGC Central Office are preparing for next year.  No, we're not talking about the return of snow and cold next December.  As you may recall, the new program year for INSGC, as established with our five-year award last July, begins on May 17.  Thus, we're in the process of sending out requests for end-of-year reporting for our 2010-11 projects, and making decisions for program awards for 2011-12.

NASA Headquarters is in the midst of providing its operating plan to Congress for the FY 2011 budget continuing resolution that was recently passed.  (I believe that this document is officially due later this spring.)  In addition, the Office of Education is reviewing its own activities and organizational requirements within that FY 2011 budget.  Thus, Space Grant Consortia nationwide are all waiting for notification of next year's base funds, as well as any augmentations that may be determined.  Not every Space Grant has the same "program anniversary," date, so even a check around the Big Ten or MAC conferences would indicate that other universities have already experienced, or not yet experienced, this end-of-year transition. All I know is that it's our turn now.

Despite this uncertainty, I am pleased to say that there are a number of extremely strong proposals that we are evaluating as our "first tier" funding priorities for 2011-12.  These funding priorities include summer programs and research activities, student internships at NASA Centers, INSGC Consortium priorities that are tied to summer activity, and outstanding scholarship and fellowship students.  One of the joys of INSGC is that we have a strong *portfolio* of projects that we support each year.  So, someone might ask us why this student didn't win a scholarship, or that project isn't being supported.  There are several factors that are involved, including (not in order of importance):

  • Program and disciplinary variety and representation;
  • Total cost and allocation of costs across budget categories;
  • Representation of multiple INSGC Affiliates and affiliate types;
  • Cost effectiveness and number of "persons touched" for project cost;
  • Adherence to NASA priorities and constraints, including Office of Education Outcomes.

I believe you would agree that these are all important criteria, and in addition, I need to make sure that we manage our "debt" and "future projections" well.  (Some days, I feel like I'm turning into a Washington political economist.  Oh, that's right, Space Grant funds really do come directly from NASA, as part of the Federal Budget.)  I have been extremely proud of our ability to present and defend our selection of programs, and report on our outcomes and successes, over the past three years; it looks like we will be able to continue this pattern of success within the constraints of unknown amounts of money with unknown delivery for projects that can't wait.

So, bear with us.  We plan to provide a "first cut" of award announcements on Tuesday, May 17... the first day of our new program year.


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Partnerships: Standing By, Launching, and Reporting

There’s a lot of “standing by” and “hold” in the life of INSGC this week.  Of course, in NASA environments, “stand by” and “hold” are two versions of “wait”.  The launch of STS-134, with Purdue alumnus Drew Feustel, has been postponed, until at least May 16, to resolve mechanical issues.  Closer to home, there are still students “standing by” to find out about potential summer internships.  We’ve had several NASA centers communicating to our office hoping to place students in labs, only to find out that students have accepted other offers.  Unfortunately, INSGC and the Centers are all in a period of budget holds, due to delays imposed by continuing resolutions affecting both the amount and distribution of NASA funding.  (No, we still don’t know what our total INSGC budget will be for 2011-12.) 

But, in the midst of all of this “stand by” status, I am very excited to note a partnership that is moving forward quickly and with enthusiasm, on the eve of a major milestone in US space history.  We were just informed on Wednesday (Thursday was the 50th anniversary of Alan Shepard’s first suborbital flight) that a partnership of Indiana education partners and afterschool STEM providers has been awarded a NASA 2011 Summer of Innovation grant.  The award (to the Indiana Association of United Ways in Indianapolis) will help to provide summer and school-year programs to 2500 middle school students, and training for 150 educators.   I’m very excited, and pleased, and encouraged that this partnership has come together under the leadership of Sonny Kirkley’s organization, Wisdom Tools, and Debbie Zipes’ Indiana Afterschool Network, and the Indiana Youth Institute and Indiana Department of Education. 

Wait, you ask.  Where’s INSGC?  Aren’t they the lead?  And if not, why is Caldwell so happy?  As I said, I am pleased that a partnership has won the Summer of Innovation grant.  We’ve supported the partnership, but this time, we weren’t best placed to take the lead on the proposal.  We provided funds to help the Indiana Afterschool Network with Project LIFTOFF.  That’s the Indiana Space Grant’s role—to be a premiere source of coordination, information, and inspiration.  I’m very glad to see these other projects move forward.  There is much more out there to be done, if all of us are doing it, rather than just the INSGC office in West Lafayette doing it.  Sometimes, the INSGC role is substantial, or even primary (like the Yuri’s Night 50th anniversary event at the Indiana State Museum and IMAX Theater).  Sometimes, we have a contribution at the beginning of something that becomes much larger, like the National Science Foundation’s Course, Curriculum, and Laboratory Improvement grants at Purdue Calumet and Taylor.  (Yes, both of those began with INSGC seed grant awards; these NSF initiatives represent a leverage of between 10 and 100 to 1 on the initial INSGC awards.)   

You can never tell when a small partnership will grow into something transformative.  All we can do is put in the best work we can, and stand by for further developments.  By the way, don’t wait to let me know if a Space Grant project turns into something big.  Trust me, the best way to ensure that we’ll keep having successful projects in the future is to let me know when prior projects develop transformative impact and success beyond the original award.  It’s not always a major research grant, or an NSF initiative to transform the way students learn science, technology, engineering, or math.  It might just be a couple of people.  But who knows.  Maybe you show up in a radio interview, or a tv program.  Maybe you're quoted in the local newspaper or monthly magazine.  Maybe one of those people becomes a NASA engineer or scientist or astronaut.  Maybe one of them becomes a serial entrepreneur that starts major technology companies.  And once again, a partnership would have led to a successful outcome.