NASA’s Graduate Student Fellowship Programs
NASA’s Office of Education lists four main goals for the agency: inspire, engage, educate, and employ. At the graduate student level NASA’s education goals shift from inspiring and engaging prospective students to educating and employing them. This is meant to lead to a growth in the nation’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics workforce. Two programs—the Graduate Student Researchers Program (GSRP) and the Earth System Science (ESS) Graduate Student Fellowships—provide graduate students with funding, mentoring, and practical research experience. The Minority University Research and Education Program (MUREP) is designed to actively engage underrepresented and underserved minorities in NASA’s activities, eventually leading to their employment in a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics discipline.
GSRP fellowships are offered to graduate students who intend to attain a master’s or doctorate in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics discipline. NASA lists 21 science fields, ranging from aerospace engineering to psychology, in which research can be pursued. In FY 1998 the program granted awards to 387 students, but the number of awards has gradually dropped, and in FY 2005 only 295 awards were granted. A GSRP slot is valued at $30,000 and awarded for 1 year; the award is renewable for up to 3 years. For comparison, graduate fellowship funding can reach $35,000 at NIH, $37,000 at EPA, $40,500 at NSF, $42,200 to $52,200 at DOE, and $55,000 at DOD. The committee notes that from a competitive standpoint, NASA is at a disadvantage compared to these other government agencies.
The $30,000 GSRP fellowship total includes a $21,000 student stipend, a student allowance of $5,000, and a $4,000 university allowance. None of these funds may be used to purchase equipment. The awardees have historically been 81 percent white and 66 percent male. Of the former participants reporting about their activities after the GSRP program, 11 percent were employed within NASA, and 40 percent were employed in aerospace-related jobs.
The ESS fellowship program has the same funding structure as the more general GSRP but focuses only on Earth system science topics, including climate variability and change, atmospheric composition, the carbon cycle and ecosystems, water and energy cycles, weather, and Earth’s surface and interior. In FY 2006 177 slots were available in the ESS fellowship program, 21 more than in FY 1999 but 18 fewer than in FY 1994.
The MUREP includes multiple programs for various education levels. The Harriet G. Jenkins Fellowship Program (JPFP) provides funding for 3 years at GSRP levels to underrepresented graduate students, including women, minorities, and persons with disabilities, seeking a master’s or a doctoral degree in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics field. The fellowships also provide 6 weeks of research experience at a NASA center. The program supported 50 students in FY 2006, including 10 seeking a master’s degree and 40 seeking a doctorate. Of the 107 students who participated in the JPFP during its first 5 years, 10 have already received a Ph.D. For FY 2005, 47 percent of participants studied engineering as a research discipline; 22 percent, astronomy or physics; 12 percent, biology; 11 percent, computer science; 5 percent, mathematics; and 4 percent, chemistry. Four former participants are employed at NASA, six are employed in the aerospace industry, and five are in higher education.