Agency’s Education Job Is ‘Dream Come True’

By David J. Hoff — May 07, 2001 2 min read

At the age of 60, Judith A. Ramaley says she is living a “dream come true.”

The former university president has landed in a top education position at the National Science Foundation—one of the few jobs where she can address the wide spectrum of her professional interests.

In a Oct. 26 interview at the NSF’s headquarters in this Washington suburb, she said: “For my entire professional career, I have been interested in the building of community, the workings of democracy, and the support for the development of young people. The National Science Foundation brings all of those interests together in one place.”

This past summer, Ms. Ramaley started her new job as the assistant director for the foundation’s directorate of education and human resources, which decides who gets NSF grants for K-12 mathematics and science education projects.

In her position with the independent federal agency, Ms. Ramaley oversees $800 million in programs, ranging from elementary school curricula to specialized graduate school fellowships.

She’s also working closely with Congress as it shapes a set of math-science partnerships that will include leaders from higher education, business, and precollegiate education.

Anatomy of a Leader

An anatomist by training, Ms. Ramaley has spent much of her career in leadership positions in universities.

She resigned as the president of the University of Vermont last spring after a four-year tenure. She was the president of Portland State University in Oregon from 1990 through 1997.

In both jobs, she worked on projects related to the NSF’s “state systemic initiatives,” the hallmark program through the 1990s for the office she now leads.

“I worked quite diligently in Oregon trying to get a state-systemic-initiative grant,” she said. Oregon did not win the grant, however.

When Ms. Ramaley arrived in Vermont, the state had an active grant, and she joined the advisory board for the statewide effort there.

Now she’s in charge of the office that will set the agenda that replaces the “systemic” approach the NSF took to precollegiate education throughout the 1990s.

In addition to the new K-12 agenda, Ms. Ramaley will oversee programs that address science education from early childhood through adulthood. The agency has requested that Congress appropriate $785 million for the directorate’s programs for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

In addition to K-12 programs in math and science, Ms. Ramaley’s office is pursuing a project that will award $3 million annually to research centers that study the “science of learning.” The agency may eventually award as many as 20 such grants, and the grants could last for up to 10 years, she said.

Her office also manages programs to improve undergraduate science faculties, graduate fellowships for future scientists, and programs designed to encourage minority students to pursue science careers.

As a grandmother of six children in preschool and elementary school, Ms. Ramaley understands the importance of her position. “I have a renewed interest in how science and math are taught in schools,” she said.

A version of this article appeared in the November 07, 2001 edition of Education Week as Agency’s Education Job Is ‘Dream Come True’