April 19, 2024


Science It Works

What community colleges should know about the U.S. National Science Foundation’s new Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships Directorate

As a bipartisan Congressional conference committee seeks to reconcile differences between two major innovation bills—the House’s America COMPETES Act and the Senate’s U.S. Innovation and Competition Act—the U.S. National Science Foundation has taken steps to accelerate technology development in America with the establishment of a new arm.

Dubbed the “Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP) Directorate,” TIP aims to catalyze “use-inspired research” and help translate federal investments in R&D into economic opportunity. TIP will house several programs that were already focused on this goal including NSF’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program, Partnerships for Innovation and America’s Seed Fund, the Convergence Accelerator, and the new Pathways to Enable Open-Source Ecosystems program. A new regional “innovation engines” initiative will aim to diversify the geography of innovation and support entrepreneurship and workforce development.

What should community college and workforce leaders know about NSF’s new technology directorate?

I sat down with NSF’s inaugural TIP head, Erwin Gianchandani to find out.

Erwin Gianchandani NSF TIP.jpg

Prior to assuming his current role, Gianchandani served in various roles at NSF over nearly ten years including as acting head and deputy director for the computer and information science directorate where he, among other duties, helped oversee the launch of the National Artificial Intelligence Research Institutes with government and private sector partners.

When announcing the directorate at SXSW 2022, NSF’s Director Sethuraman Panchanathan stated that the directorate will work to “rapidly bring new technologies to market and address the most pressing societal and economic challenges of our time.”

I had to ask Gianchandani whether workforce development in response to technology development fit into the funding strategy and programs of the TIP directorate.

“Yes, absolutely,” Gianchandani told me.

Gianchandani emphasized that the focus would extend beyond NSF’s traditional focus on doctoral-level training, stating that “What we hope for the TIP Directorate is for it to serve as a catalyst to spotlight who we need to train, not just Ph.D. talent, but technicians, entrepreneurs, and even the educators who will train the next generation working in emerging technology areas.”

While it was too early for TIP to share plans or a timeline for specific funding opportunities related to talent development, Gianchandani did share TIP’s intent to leverage collaborations with NSF’s Education and Human Resources (EHR) Directorate, which houses the 2-year institution-focused Advanced Technological Education program and other STEM education funding programs, to support career preparation needs that result from TIP supported technology development.

Further collaborations with federal agencies including the U.S. Departments of Education, Labor, Commerce, Defense, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy as well as the private and philanthropic sectors related to aligning technology and talent development are also being explored.

TIP’s approach is timely as education providers including community colleges and apprenticeships expand offerings that lead to existing and emerging tech jobs including in areas such as autonomous vehicles, electric vehicles, artificial intelligence, renewable energy, and even cryptocurrency. Research has affirmed the need to double down on technical talent preparation outside of doctoral programs, particularly if emerging job opportunities are to be accessible to diverse learners.