Through this new initiative, the Directorate for Education and Human Resources (EHR) and the newly established Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships (TIP) seek to support experiential learning opportunities for individuals from diverse professional and educational backgrounds that will increase access to, and interest in, career pathways in emerging technology fields (e.g., advanced manufacturing, advanced wireless, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, quantum information science, semiconductors, and microelectronics). As NSF seeks to support the development of technologies in such fields, similar support will be needed to foster and grow a diverse science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce to contribute to such innovation. Large scale societal challenges like climate change and clean energy also require a STEM workforce that brings varied perspectives and expertise to further accelerate the translation of science and engineering discoveries into large-scale solutions. Moreover, as current and new emerging technologies continue to evolve, unforeseen issues around security, safety and privacy will impact the preparation of the workforce. Emerging technologies are also dynamic and rapidly changing, with career entry and advancement often requiring "learning-by-doing" experience, even for those with some STEM education. Therefore, NSF recognizes that a competitive emerging technology workforce must include individuals from traditional and nontraditional education pathways as well as those individuals who may have “stopped” out of traditional educational pathways.
The ExLENT program will support inclusive experiential learning opportunities designed to provide cohorts of diverse learners with the crucial skills needed to succeed in emerging technology fields and prepare them to enter the workforce ready to solve our Nation’s most pressing scientific and societal challenges. Furthermore, the ExLENT program will directly support NSF’s priority to build a diverse workforce1 in emerging technologies to assure the Nation’s competitiveness in STEM.
Key goals of the program are to (1) expand access to career-enhancing experiential learning opportunities for a broader, more diverse population, including adult learners interested in re-skilling and/or upskilling (e.g., those who face or who have faced significant barriers to accessing a formal STEM education); (2) promote cross sector partnerships between organizations in emerging technology fields and those with expertise in workforce development; and (3) develop a workforce aligned with regional economies based on emerging technologies across the Nation, in alignment with the mission of the TIP Directorate.
Regarding proposals submitted to this solicitation for the March 02, 2023 deadline, there are two tracks:
- Pivots Track
- Beginnings Track
Proposals submitted to the Beginnings Track for this deadline should focus on individuals who have earned stackable certificates, or who are enrolled in certification programs and/or associate degree programs.
Regarding the proposals submitted for the September 14, 2023 deadline ("Second Thursday in September, Annually Thereafter"), there are three tracks:
- Pivots Track
- Beginnings Track
- Explorations Track