Dear Colleague Letter: NSF-Lemelson Initiative on Environmental and Social Sustainability in Engineering Education

Funding Agency:
National Science Foundation

December 6, 2023

Dear Colleagues:

With this Dear Colleague Letter (DCL), the Directorate for Engineering of the National Science Foundation (NSF) notifies the research community of a collaboration with The Lemelson Foundation of a special topic focus to foster efforts that transform engineering education and address environmental and social sustainability. The opportunity described in this DCL remains in effect until archived.

Based in Portland, Oregon, The Lemelson Foundation believes in the power of invention to improve lives. Inspired by the belief that invention can solve many of the biggest economic and social challenges of our time, The Lemelson Foundation helps to increase equitable access to invention education, strengthen entrepreneurship programs that support impact inventors and ensure engineering education prepares all future engineers with the skills to protect and improve our planet and our lives.

Future engineers will need to be prepared to address and impact environmental and social sustainability for increasingly complex engineering systems that support human well-being. Diminishing natural resources, coupled with increased emissions and waste generation, threaten future habitation on Earth. Efforts in engineering education to promote a sustainable future to counter these trends include integration of socio-technical complexity in engineering problems through focus on societal challenges, development of case studies and sustainability engineering content, explorations of engineering identities and beliefs about sustainability, and integrating sustainability with engineering design, among other approaches. To integrate sustainability into current systems and ensure future engineers are prepared for professional demands, curricular transformation is needed that reevaluates content, fosters fundamental sustainability skills and mindsets and integrates diverse stakeholder perspectives.

The Research in the Formation of Engineers program (RFE) supports research to advance understanding of professional formation in engineering. It seeks both to deepen our fundamental understanding of the underlying processes and mechanisms that support professional formation and to demonstrate how professional formation is or can be accomplished. Ultimately, RFE aims to transform the engineer-formation system with the goal of fostering an innovative and inclusive engineering profession for the 21st century. NSF invites proposals to the RFE program to address sustainability in engineering education. This special topic focus call seeks to support projects to transform engineering education so that all students encounter environmental and social sustainability principles as an integrated part of their education and are equipped with the tools needed to incorporate these principles into their future research, careers, and innovations. Evidence-based curricular transformation will be critical to training future engineers with the skills, knowledge, and mindsets that will enable sustainable engineering systems and practices.

Proposal submissions to NSF in response to this opportunity are accepted anytime. Projects submitted by April 30 will be considered for the current Fiscal Year.

Agency Website

Areas of Interest

Priority projects for this special funding focus may include the following elements:

  • Advancement of evidence-based understanding of curricular change at all levels.
  • Well-developed research plans rooted in relevant literature and theory that specifies how the project will strengthen the research base that informs investments in environmental and social sustainability in engineering education.
  • Institutional curricular change efforts that include team members from two or more engineering disciplines, engage multiple stakeholders, demonstrate support from institutional leadership, and highlight alignment with departmental and institutional missions as well as strategic plans.

Proposals may address topics including, but not limited to:

  • effective design, development and propagation of curricular and co-curricular transformation efforts to integrate sustainability in engineering;
  • design and impact of educational interventions that meet workplace expectations for knowledge and competencies;
  • fostering capacity-building, networks, or structural changes to promote and integrate sustainability across diverse disciplines, including multiple engineering disciplines;
  • assessment factors that increase persistence, motivation, self-efficacy, and retention of learners including historically marginalized and underrepresented groups;
  • the influence of public/private partnerships on sustainability education in engineering; and/or
  • measurement of the effectiveness of interventions for different audiences.

Funding Type





Curriculum Development
Engineering and Physical Sciences
Environmental & Life Sciences
Social Sciences

External Deadline

April 30, 2024