The George Washington University has entered a five-year cooperative agreement with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) that will strengthen the scientific workforce while providing opportunities for GW and its partners in the Professional Research Experience Program (PREP).
The collaboration, GWU-PREP, brings up to $29.9 million in federal funds to create research opportunities at the NIST campus in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and provide financial assistance to eligible graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, including full tuition reimbursement and a monthly stipend or hourly wage. Undergraduate students may be able to work part-time and/or during the summer at NIST. Recent graduates, faculty and researchers who aren’t seeking degrees may also work with NIST on various projects.
John Lach, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, praised the establishment of GWU-PREP.
"This program is another example of how GW uniquely supports the science and engineering education and research needs of the nation,” Lach said. “By partnering directly with our NIST neighbors, we can develop a diverse talent pipeline, create the knowledge and innovate the solutions for our future."
David Broniatowski, associate professor in SEAS, will serve as the principal investigator and PREP program coordinator. He emphasized that the new program has two chief goals.
“One goal of PREP is to build and diversify the scientific workforce,” Broniatowski said. PREP will facilitate the recruitment and retention of researchers from historically marginalized groups such as women, minorities and persons with disabilities. “The other goal is to help NIST carry out its mission to advance measurement science, standards and technology in ways that promote innovation and industrial competitiveness, enhance economic security and improve our quality of life. These are synergistic goals—everyone can benefit from the diverse perspectives of our nation’s top talent.”
GWU-PREP also offers opportunities for researchers affiliated with schools in the Southeastern Universities Research Association (SURA), increasing the diversity of the pool of scientists and engineers who can help NIST achieve its mission. SURA is a network of nearly 60 universities with a shared mission to advance the scientific capacity of member institutions and the nation. GW is a member of SURA, and SURA will serve as an important collaborator on this project.
As program coordinator, Broniatowski said, part of his job is to facilitate collaborations and efficient interaction between NIST and people at GW. He worked with Pamela Norris, GW’s vice provost for research, to write and submit the successful proposal.
“GW is well positioned to lead a successful NIST-PREP collaboration thanks to our strong research and academic programs, our diverse community of broadly educated faculty and students and our proximity to NIST headquarters,” said Norris. “This partnership with the SURA will only broaden GW’s impact and create opportunities for even more talented individuals to develop research skills and ultimately join the STEM workforce.”
Another lead faculty member on the program is Can Korman, professor and associate department chair for graduate studies in Electrical and Computer Engineering. Korman will serve as the program manager, responsible for establishing and managing the mentorship, technical and research aspects of GWU-PREP.
In this role, Korman will work with NIST to assess program performance using established metrics and qualitative responses to exit surveys. He will also facilitate mentorship and career development plans for PREP researchers.
“My role is to make sure that both the NIST goals and the GW programmatic goals are being met,” Korman said. “I will coordinate with other GW schools, colleges and departments to review a number of outcomes and program priorities, and I will work with undergraduate and graduate students, postdocs and faculty to help them effectively engage in the program.”
PREP researchers are already lined up from SEAS, SMHS and GWSB, Broniatowski noted. He and Korman both say that they see the partnership between NIST and GW as logical and apt, given GW’s location in the nation’s capital.
“We're really excited to be partnering with NIST on this,” Broniatowski said. “GW has a unique opportunity to contribute because of our historic strength both in policy and in specific fields of engineering that have policy relevance. And we hope to be able to use this as a model of how we can collaborate more broadly with the federal scientific ecosystem and really emphasize what it is that GW does best.”
NIST’s labs make vital contributions to fields such as information technology, artificial intelligence (AI), cybersecurity and many others.
“NIST is the agency that's out there making sure that when we develop technology, it’s done in a way that is fair, doesn’t play favorites and can be replicated,” Broniatowski said. “This makes the work that NIST does highly important, facilitating trust in American commerce and society as a whole.”
For example, in January 2023 the NIST information technology laboratory launched the AI Risk-Management Framework, a voluntary resource to help organizations incorporate trustworthiness considerations, such as security, fairness, privacy and transparency into their AI systems. Trustworthy AI systems are a major focus of research at GW.
“Imagine a company that puts out an algorithm to make determinations on who should get reimbursed for medical procedures,” Broniatowski said. “Those algorithms are supposed to be objective. But there have been a number of studies showing that because of the way the measures are defined, some Americans, often from historically marginalized groups, are much more likely to be refused treatment than others, even though they're just as sick or sicker. And it really comes down to the way that the measures were defined.”
Both Korman and Broniatowski emphasize the cooperative nature of the GWU-PREP agreement. While NIST may solicit for specific openings for which GW will then put forward resumes, it’s also possible for a faculty member to propose a project.
“NIST’s priorities include things like cybersecurity, trustworthy AI, nanotechnology and several other areas where GW has great strengths," Broniatowski said. "That’s one of the reasons I think this is an excellent match.”