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NASA and DoD taking steps to diversify workforce, advance research capacity at HBCU/MSIs

May 05, 2022
By: Emily Chesser

In response to an executive order signed last year by President Biden to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in the federal workforce, many federal organizations are evaluating the resources and opportunities available to minority groups. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) are taking steps to grow strong relationships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) to provide more opportunities for students and faculty members and promote diversity in the federal workforce.

According to an article from Inside Higher Ed, NASA recently launched an equity action plan with specific steps to provide more opportunities for students and faculty at MSIs. This plan will include an analysis of common barriers for researchers at MSIs seeking NASA grants and cooperation agreements. To further encourage equity and inclusion at NASA, it is transitioning to a new anonymous peer-review system to reduce implicit bias and is creating the Science Mission Directorate Bridge Program to strengthen its relationship with HBCUs and MSIs, focusing on paid research and engineering internships, apprenticeships, and research experiences for faculty.

A report released by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense evaluated how to advance the research capacity of HBCUs and minority-serving institutions and “addresses key questions around why DOD has not yet harnessed these institutions as vital resources in developing its research portfolio.” The preface of the report states that, “it is time to move from well-intentioned statements to actionable outcomes,” and offers recommendations to strengthen the roles of these institutions in defense research.

To invest in R&D and cultivate a diverse pool of STEM talent, the report calls for “intentional and strategic investments,” in the nation’s HBCUs and MSIs. The report found that there has not been a significant expansion in the funding for research projects or research capacity awarded to the vast majority of HBCU/MIs, despite legislation and departmental efforts to do so. Recommendations in the report to close that gap include DOD providing long-term support with funding for equipment, facilities, personnel, and training programs. Additionally, DOD should double its target funding from FY 2020 to better match funding provided by other federal agencies and expand partnerships with HBCUs and MSIs to increase outreach and improve data collection. It also recommends that DOD build stronger relationships with researchers and leaders at HBCU/MIs, incentivize true partnerships, and improve data collection and evaluation.

nasa, dod, diversity, stem, workforce