“As those of us who have been to Antarctica know…” is not a common introductory phrase, but at a panel discussion on research in the region during the first of five meetings of the National Science Board (NSB) this year, a number of speakers and board members reported that they had first met on the remote continent. Hailing from both from academia and industry, the 24-member board is tasked with setting the policies of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and acting as independent advisors to both the president and Congress on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) policy.
Among the wide range of issues discussed during the two-day meeting was the National Academy’s 2015 report (A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research), which lists strategies and recommendations for infrastructure and research in the region. NSF leads the U.S. Antarctic Program and maintains and operates research stations, and the discussion provided background and context for the design phase of a long-range investment program for McMurdo Research Station (Antarctic Infrastructure Modernization for Science project).
There was also discussion of a newly-proposed initiative to support jobs and opportunities in “Blue Collar STEM,” the workforce of individuals who do not have a four-year college degree. Dr. Victor McCrary (Vice President for Research and Economic Development, Morgan State University) who proposed the initiative, hopes to create a working group within the NSB to begin outreach to other organizations on the topic and to better define NSF’s potential involvement. NSB Chairwoman Dr. Maria Zuber (Vice President for Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology) highlighted the relevancy of the topic, commenting that it “speaks directly to administration priorities of job creation in the United States.” Dr. Roger Beachy (Professor Emeritus, Washington University) added, “It’s an opportunity to introduce the National Science Foundation to a different group of people, if we take the lead.” Though members of the Board were supportive of the effort, there was some discussion on the appropriateness of the term “blue collar STEM” and whether it falls inside NSF’s scope. Though this was just the beginning for the Board under the new administration, Chairwoman Zuber concluded, “President Trump likes winning, and he likes bold ideas. This should thrill us. Ideas and competition are what make science tick.”