How the Research Corporation for Science Advancement Puts the Science Back in Science Education

When the Research Corporation for Science Advancement decided in 1994 to launch its Cottrell Scholar Awards program, the goal was to unite the research and teaching functions that had grown so disconnected at Ph.D.-granting institutions. The program has now taken on a life of its own. (See Research Corporation for Science Advancement: Grants for Science Education).

Past recipients of the Cottrell Scholar Award have banded together in an effort to improve science education for undergraduates at American universities. Now with 250 members and growing, this group of faculty members from a wide range of disciplines has been dubbed the Cottrell Scholars Collaborative. Their goal is to search for new ways to attract and retain students in the sciences. The group assembles once each year in Tucson, Arizona, to discuss their work.

The Research Corporation even provided grants to four groups that grew out of this effort. All of them are aimed at improving undergraduate education in the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering, and math — and in varied and often novel ways. (Read Reasearch Corporation program director, Silvia Ronco's IP profile).

For example, the Cottrell Comic Challenge Project is launching a pilot program to use talented graphic designers in an effort to reach out to potential STEM students. Another project, the Cottrell Repository for Effective Science Teaching, has established a website based at the University of Notre Dame that aims to be a clearinghouse of sorts for "teacher scholars" who want to share ideas about integrating scientific pursuits into their curriculum.

These resources come in addition to the still-ongoing Cottrell Scholar Awards program, so it's not too late to gain admission to this exclusive club. The award comes with a grant in the amount of $75,000, with the only caveat that $5,000 be set aside to attend Cottrell Scholar conferences.

How to attract the attention of the science advisory committee that helps cull the list? Applicants first need to be at least a few years into their first tenure-track position at an American institution. The awards are also limited to faculty members in a basic physical sciences department — astronomy and biophysics qualifies, but medicine and engineering schools do not.

The committee is looking for individuals who fill the classic role of teacher and scholar. The goal is to support faculty members who are not following their research ideas to the frontiers of their field, but also willing to bring their students along for the ride.