Iowa State to Help Lead NSF Expansion of Broader Impact Outreach Network

The Office of Vice President for Research

Iowa State University is part of a team of higher education institutions leading an initiative that seeks to create better public understanding of benefits and impacts of research made possible by federal grants.

The National Science Foundation awarded $500,000 to the five-year initiative, called the Broader Impacts and Outreach Network for Institutional Collaboration (BIONIC). The effort will create a network of professionals throughout the United States who help scientists working in U.S. research institutions better explain the relevance of their research to people’s lives and livelihoods.

Iowa State joins the University of Missouri, Northwestern University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Stanford University in leading the initiative. The BIONIC contingent at Iowa State includes leaders from Strengthening the Professoriate (SP@ISU), which helps ISU faculty and staff develop and integrate outreach and engagement efforts, also known as broader impacts, that are an essential part of any NSF-funded research program.

“We are excited to join our colleagues in implementing these best practices for increasing the public’s appreciation of funded research and researchers’ capacity to address societal needs,” said Diane Rover, professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of SP@ISU. “It has never been more important for our researchers to be successful in leveraging their passion for their projects in multifaceted ways.”

In addition to supporting faculty development of broader impact activities, SP@ISU also works with postdoctoral research associates and advanced graduate students to prepare their professional credentials so that a new generation of scholars has the tools to undertake broader impacts work. Broader impacts value the advancement of scientific knowledge and lead to activities that contribute to societally relevant outcomes such as broadening participation in STEM fields, improving STEM education, improving national security, enhancing the infrastructure for research and education, developing a diverse and global workforce, increasing economic competitiveness of the United States, and improving the well-being of the public.

Sarah M. Nusser, vice president for research at Iowa State University, says she appreciates that developing a diverse, globally competitive STEM workforce is a high priority for the initiative.

“It is important to recognize that the science isn’t complete without explaining to the public the relevance of what we do,” said Nusser. “Part of our responsibility in the research community is to engage with the public in meaningful ways and to ensure that we have full and diverse participation in research so that the people working in our research labs and facilities are a reflection of our broader society.”

Recently, SP@ISU hosted a workshop for faculty led by NSF CAREER awardees who gave advice and talked about the broader impacts in their grants. Mayly Sanchez, an award-winning physicist at Iowa State, shared her insights about partnering with existing campus programs, such as the Program for Women in Science and Engineering. Such partnering is increasingly important in order for researchers to do high-quality, meaningful and effective broader impacts work.

“We identify faculty leaders at Iowa State who share what they’ve learned and pass along the knowledge and tools that have allowed them to be successful both in winning grants and in extending the reach of their research projects in their communities,” said Rover. “The BIONIC effort is similar in that it increases the network of experts and resources to a wider and wider circle of participants.”

The University of Missouri’s Susan Renoe, principal investigator for the NSF grant, says it’s important to show the value of scientific discoveries in the daily lives of Americans.

“Federally funded research is improving education for our kids, creating better crops and yields, and contributing to advancements in medicine,” she said.


Diane Rover, SP@ISU, 515-294-2819, drover@iastate.edu
Megan Heitmann, SP@ISU, 515-294-8061, heitmann@iastate.edu
Sarah Nusser, Vice President for Research, 515-294-6344, nusser@iastate.edu