The director of the National Science Foundation, Subra Suresh, will step down several years early from his six-year term at the independent federal agency to become the next president of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
As many readers know, the NSF—with a total budget of more than $7 billion—fuels a lot of work in STEM education at the K-12 level.
“Subra has shown himself to be a consummate scientist and engineer—beholden to evidence and committed to upholding the highest scientific standards,” said President Barack Obama in a statement. “He has also done his part to make sure the American people benefit from advances in technology, and opened up more opportunities for women, minorities, and other underrepresented groups.”
Suresh was the dean of engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before joining the NSF in October 2010. He will relinquish his leadership post at the end of March.
A quick search of the EdWeek archives over the past year gives a flavor of what the NSF has been up to in the K-12 sphere:
• NSF awards $33 million in grants over five years for climate-change education;
• NSF supports project to connect science and literacy with $2.4 million grant;
• Computer-science education gets boost from $6 million NSF grant;
• NSF grant of $7.4 million targets STEM education in Baltimore elementary schools; and
• Researchers to study revised AP science program with $2.6 million NSF grant.
The science journal Nature quotes Samuel Rankin, the chairman of the Coalition for National Science Funding as saying he was not surprised by the decision, noting that leading Carnegie Mellon is a “once in a lifetime opportunity” for Suresh.
Rankin told Nature that during his tenure, Suresh became a champion of interdisciplinary research and international collaborations.
In the spring of 2011, the publication Prism, from the American Society of Engineering Education, wrote a profile of him titled “The Interdisciplinarian.” It emphasized his interest in cross-disciplinary thinking (STEM, anyone?), and said that he brought the mindset of “applying the tools of engineering to scientific problems.”
The Nature article notes that Suresh’s departure comes at a “critical juncture,” when all government agencies are facing the prospect of mandatory, across-the-board cuts.
A NSF press release quotes Alan Lesher, the CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (and a member of the National Science Board) as saying Suresh brought “vision and vigor” to his leadership at the NSF. “He began a series of initiatives that will have lasting impact in advancing science, engineering, and scientific careers in many venues where science is done, whether academic or industry.”
Photo: Suresh takes the stage before first lady Michelle Obama speaks at an event supporting and retaining women and girls in STEM careers in September 2011.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.