IGE: Stakeholder-Driven Sustainable Development Experiences for Enhancing STEM Graduate Education

Project: Research project

Project Details


Graduate students trained in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are essential for supporting innovation in sustainable development strategies, particularly for enhancing resiliency to unprecedented global challenges such as climate change, human migration, and pandemics. However, there is growing concern that STEM graduate education may be falling short on preparing the nation's workforce to face these global challenges. Equipping students with transformative skills in STEM is necessary for their future success, and for the sustainable development of society. This National Science Foundation Innovations in Graduate Education (IGE) award to Pennsylvania State University will engage underrepresented graduate students in real-world international experiences. Students will develop creative solutions to complex sustainable development challenges as an integral part of team working in close collaboration with local communities. Each year, a cohort of 12 graduate students will advance technical, ecological, and social strategies for sustainable development in 1- to 6-month research internships at different sites around the world. To empower them to effectively and compassionately advocate for change where it is needed most, participants will also receive modular professional development training in science communication, multiculturalism, global leadership, and environmental justice. As a result, students will be better prepared to pursue diverse professional careers in sustainable development, increasing the capacity of the future workforce to solve important environmental challenges.

The overarching goal of this IGE project is to improve the scientific basis of environmental decision-making, and increase the likelihood of successful implementation of sustainability strategies now and into the future. To meet this goal, this program aims to advance project-based learning through hypothesis-driven contextual systems research in sustainable development. Collaborative, stakeholder-driven research topics intersect at the water-energy-food nexus and include: water treatment and reuse; renewable energy production; nutrient management; sustainable agricultural systems; reducing air pollution and carbon emissions; remote sensing for environmental impact assessment; and climate change mitigation. Sustainable development provides a unifying and motivational theme under which faculty and students can work together across traditional academic boundaries, providing inherent opportunities for teamwork and transdisciplinary collaboration. This initiative is strategically designed to train and empower students that are members of underrepresented groups to develop and mobilize sustainable development solutions together with stakeholders and leading experts. Further, this project will build the foundational principles of transformative graduate education in sustainability that can be replicated at community-engaged institutions everywhere.

The Innovations in Graduate Education (IGE) program is focused on research in graduate education. The goals of IGE are to pilot, test and validate innovative approaches to graduate education and to generate the knowledge required to move these approaches into the broader community.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date6/15/215/31/24


  • National Science Foundation: $458,240.00


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