NASA Awards $18 Million for Research at Minority Serving Institutions
NASA and Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) across the United States are teaming up to bring untapped talent and diverse perspectives to several of the agency’s top priorities: understanding and monitoring global ocean health, returning humans to the Moon through the Artemis program, and helping build a more inclusive workforce.
NASA will fund an array of projects proposed by MSIs — with a total of approximately $18 million — through four new opportunities from the agency’s Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP). These funding opportunities will enable institutions to take on some of NASA’s most pressing challenges while increasing their research capabilities, allowing them to become more competitive for future awards. The awards also will allow the institutions to broaden their participation in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.
“NASA thrives on big goals and monumental challenges, and these demand the brightest minds from the broadest variety of backgrounds and experiences,” said Mike Kincaid, NASA’s associate administrator of STEM Engagement at NASA Headquarters in Washington. The Office of STEM Engagement (OSTEM) manages MUREP. “We’re reaching out to historically underrepresented and underserved communities and creating as many avenues as we can to bring them onboard, whether it’s through awards such as these, NASA internships and fellowships, or other engagements.”
In June, NASA introduced Mission Equity, a new effort to assess the agency’s programs, procurements, grants, and more as an effort to remove systemic barriers and challenges facing underserved and underrepresented communities. MUREP plays a key role for the agency by funding opportunities that build infrastructure and research capacity at MSIs while emphasizing student success.
“MSIs bring their own, diverse viewpoint to answering the research questions NASA continues to seek,” said MUREP manager Torry Johnson. “By broadening participation, MUREP looks to expand the pool of institutions that engage in these critical science and technological discussions while at the same time introducing potential candidates that will aid in reimagining the future STEM workforce.”
A collaboration between MUREP and the NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD), the Ocean Biology and Biogeochemistry (OCEAN) award helps MSIs prepare to compete in future funding opportunities in line with NASA’s efforts to gain a deeper scientific understanding of our planet. On June 21, NASA awarded 10 MSIs more than $6.6 million in cooperative agreements, enabling these institutions to take an active role in studying climate change and its effects.
“We’re excited about this partnership,” said Jack Kaye, associate director for research in NASA’s Earth Science Division, part of SMD. “MUREP OCEAN will further capacity at MSIs and expand the investigator community that is addressing the relationship between climate and ocean biology and biogeochemistry. The selected investigations add geographic and topic diversity to our program and will help create new opportunities for students and faculty to engage in our research for years to come.”
MUREP established the OCEAN funding opportunity in support of NASA’s research into ocean health, focusing primarily on the impacts of climate change on aquatic biology and ecosystems. The agency sought proposals to either develop remote sensing capabilities to analyze the impacts and vulnerability of aquatic ecosystems due to changing climate or improve understanding of carbon cycle processes and feedback in critical aquatic zones that are particularly vulnerable to environmental changes.
M-STAR Implementation Funding
The MUREP Space Technology Artemis Research (M-STAR) awards support NASA’s Artemis program, which will send the first woman and first person of color to the Moon. M-STAR was created in partnership with the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) to promote STEM literacy and boost MSIs’ capabilities to compete in agency research required for missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.
M-STAR implementation funding builds on M-STAR planning grants awarded in August 2020. On July 14, the agency awarded nearly $3.5 million in cooperative agreements to seven institutions, five of which previously received M-STAR planning grants.
“Diversity is a key component of technology development,” said Jim Reuter, NASA associate administrator for space technology. “By investing in and working with MSIs that recruit and support communities traditionally underrepresented in STEM, the agency is accessing and utilizing new perspectives, skillsets, and solutions.”
Engineering forms the backbone of NASA’s most ambitious goals, and the agency recognizes the importance of diversity in problem-solving. NASA, OSTEM, and the National Science Foundation’s Directorate of Engineering signed a memorandum of understanding in 2021 to work together on a new initiative to bring a broader scope of perspectives to NASA’s missions. MUREP INCLUDES built upon the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science (NSF INCLUDES) model to help MSIs form and lead coalitions dedicated to broadening participation in engineering. Its goal is to increase the participation of underrepresented minorities in STEM fields by 2026. This partnership aims to further scale activities as a result of increased lessons learned.
NASA awarded six institutions nearly $7.2 million in MUREP INCLUDES cooperative agreements, which the agency announced on July 21. This funding will be used to determine which methods are most effective at bringing diverse students into engineering research, expand existing programs that are already successful, and explore innovative approaches to fill in identified gaps.
The MUREP-Small Business Technology Transfer Research (M-STTR) planning grants are designed to reduce barriers and pave the way for MSIs and small businesses to compete in STMD’s annual Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer Research (SBIR/STTR) solicitation.
NASA’s SBIR/STTR program enables small businesses to take part in federal research and development. Through STTR, small businesses partner with research institutions to explore their technological capabilities, with the potential to profit from their innovations through commercialization. The new M-STTR funding enables MSIs to team up with small businesses to explore ideas, build teams, engage stakeholders, and, ultimately, have an action plan to respond to the solicitation.
On August 5, the agency awarded more than $540,000 in planning grants to 10 institutions for 11 projects. The selected institutions will have four months to develop their STTR action plans.
Powered Through Partnerships
MUREP’s awards made through its four funding opportunities underscore how partnerships are instrumental in broadening participation in STEM and driving innovative research aligned with NASA’s priorities.
These awards were made through the Education Opportunities in NASA STEM 2021 (EONS 2021) solicitation. M-STAR is a two-year award, while OCEAN and INCLUDES each have a three-year period of performance. M-STTR planning grants have a four-month period of performance.
For information about MUREP, visit https://www.nasa.gov/stem/murep/.