Dear Colleague Letter: Supplemental Funding Opportunity to Support Student Design Projects Directly Related to NSF Research

Funding Agency:
National Science Foundation

July 22, 2019

Dear Colleagues:

The mission of NSF is to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare of the US. Fostering the growth of a more capable and diverse research workforce and advancing the scientific and innovation skills of the Nation are strategic objectives of NSF. To support its mission and this objective, NSF continues to invest in programs that directly advance the nation's Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) workforce. As part of this effort, a supplemental funding opportunity is being made available starting in FY 2019 to provide support for mentored, student-led design projects that are directly related to currently funded NSF awards from the Engineering Directorate. This Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) describes a new opportunity for principal investigators to expand the Broader Impact of their awards through a Design Supplement.

Engineering, by its very nature, involves design - creating solutions to real world problems. While the design process can take place based on existing technologies and well-established science, engineering innovation often requires a connection to cutting-edge science. One way to prepare future engineering professionals to interact with researchers and push the frontiers of engineering innovation is to introduce this connection to engineering students. While Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) supplements allow individual students to be integrated into a research laboratory experience, the research and design processes are very different.

As defined by ABET, the accrediting organization for engineering programs in the US, engineering design is a process of devising a system, component, or process to meet desired needs and specifications within constraints1. It is an iterative process that involves identifying opportunities, developing requirements, performing analysis, generating multiple solutions, evaluating those solutions against the requirements, considering risks, and making trade-offs - all for the purpose of obtaining a high-quality solution under the given circumstances. All students in an accredited engineering program must complete a culminating design experience. Providing a mechanism to connect students' design education to the research conducted in NSF-funded laboratories will create a bridge between the discovery of research and the translational potential of design.

NSF will consider supplemental funding requests to support student design projects connected to active NSF grants. The goals of these supplements are the following:

  1. To connect student design projects to innovative, NSF-supported research and the latest advances in engineering science.
  2. To expose students to the discovery process of research while preparing them for their roles in the engineering workforce.
  3. To provide a team of students with the funds necessary to pursue the design process, from need finding, industry and customer discovery, through prototyping and validation.

Supplemental funding requests may be submitted at any time. However, sufficient time must be allowed (e.g. a minimum of 8 weeks) to permit review and recommendation in advance of the project's initiation.

Agency Website

Eligibility Requirements

The PI of an active NSF award (see below for the participating Divisions) may request supplemental funding to support a mentored, student-led design project that is connected to their NSF award. To be eligible, the design-research connection should meet one of the following two criteria:

  1. A project that builds on scientific advances from the research by applying that knowledge to solve a current challenge.
  2. A project that challenges students to design a technology, device, or system to complement or augment the methods or aims of the research project.

In addition, eligible projects are expected to meet the following requirements:

  1. Projects must be conducted by students, preferably as a team.
  2. The solution to the challenge should not be pre-determined (i.e. the students are not simply implementing a design developed by the PI), so that the students go through the complete engineering design process - including development of a prototype or system simulation, as appropriate.
  3. The project should require students to consider relevant standards and realistic constraints.
  4. Project support from the supplement must be used to support the design process, including need finding, industry and customer discovery, prototyping, and validation/verification, not student time.

PIs must describe how the design project will be mentored and assessed. The project may be part of a capstone design course or an independent project course, both of which have mentoring and assessment frameworks. Please see the list below for the participating divisions that will consider these supplemental funding requests.

Participating Divisions - Directorate for Engineering

Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems (CBET)

Civil, Mechanical, and Manufacturing Innovation (CMMI)

Electrical, Communications, and Cyber Systems (ECCS)



Amount Description

The maximum amount of funding per supplement will be $4,000. If the PI's institution has an established program with documented requirements for minimum funding levels for capstone projects, including from internal and not-for-profit sponsors, then higher amounts for these supplements may be considered. PI's must discuss this in advance with the program director and must include a signed letter from the department chair or dean describing these requirements.

Funding Type





Curriculum Development
Engineering and Physical Sciences
Environmental & Life Sciences