Funding Research for Tier Two Institutions with NSF:

Changing Higher Ed Podcast 165 with Host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and Guest Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan

Table of Contents

Advancing Research for Tier Two Institutions with NSF | Changing Higher Ed Podcast 165 with Host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and Guest Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan
Changing Higher Ed Podcast | Drumm McNaughton | The Change Leader

25 July · Episode 165

Funding Research for Tier Two Institutions with NSF

37 Min · By Dr. Drumm McNaughton

Funding research for tier two institutions enables building robust infrastructures, achieving groundbreaking discoveries and expanding STEM.

Tier two (R2) research and smaller institutions, including two-year, minority-serving, and tribal colleges, can now build solid research infrastructures and perform groundbreaking discoveries through research enterprises on the same scale as larger R1 and flagship universities.


In this episode of Changing Higher Ed®, Drumm speaks with Sethuraman Panchanathan, Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF). They discuss how his organization helps democratize ideas in higher education, enabling all colleges and universities to solve real-world problems and revitalize their communities.


The NSF achieves this through funding and grant programs like the Nationally Transformative Equity and Diversity (GRANTED) and Enabling Partnership to Increase Innovation Capacity (EPIIC).


Dr. Panch also discusses NSF’s mission and vision. He talks about its recent $44 million program that helps fund projects across the US. Additionally, Drumm refers to another NSF program as “a tech transfer on steroids.” Moreover, they explore what smaller institutions with few resources need to do to start conducting research.


Podcast Highlights


  • NSF’s Regional Innovation Engines is a $44 million investment that promotes competition and exploits the innate potential of the region through partnerships. A recent pilot in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, is transforming industrial hemp into automated building materials that capture carbon, making it carbon-negative. This pilot is a partnership between Penn State University and other community colleges.

  • The Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships, or the TIP Directorate, is a cross-cutting directorate that pulls basic discoveries through multiple partnerships into industry, entrepreneurial, and venture-based outcomes. These experiences are then brought back to create new ideas in different areas and disciplines to solve real-world problems with scalable, cost-effective, and impactful solutions.

  • Growing Research Access Through Nationally Transformative Equity and Diversity (GRANTED) helps build the critical research enterprise and capacity at the national level by making the position skill knowledge needed to create a robust research infrastructure.

  • Enabling Partnership to Increase Innovation Capacity (EPIIC) is a $20 million investment that enables the development and improvement of sustainable research enterprise support functions and services at minority-serving, two-year undergraduate, and emerging research institutions. This allows them to build the infrastructure and access the resources they need to grow external partnerships and tap into the regional innovation ecosystem.

  • NSF focuses on four strategic areas: research, education, partnerships, and research infrastructures. The research area includes Broadening Participation in STEM, Entrepreneurship, and Innovation called BP Innovate and EDU Racial Equity in STEM Education. These programs create foundations of knowledge to examine the limitations of people participating in these types of programs to increase inclusion and accessibility in the innovation and entrepreneurial space.

  • Education features interventions that enhance educational opportunities. This includes the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, which supports recruiting, preparing, and developing effective, diverse, and capable STEM teachers who can teach in high-need school districts and serve a diverse student population.

  • For partnerships, NFS announced last year an $8.6 million partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Schmidt Futures, and the Walton Family Foundation to help fund initiatives that will improve the quality of US STEM education for all students.

  • For research infrastructure, NFS invests in the nation through GRANTED. To get started, colleges and universities should contact NFS’s GRANTED program coordinator, who will help present your institution, faculty, and ideas in the highest possible competitive form. GRANTED also connects colleges and universities with other successful GRANTED-participating institutions.



About Our Podcast Guest


The Honorable Sethuraman Panchanathan is a computer scientist and engineer and the 15th Director of the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). Panchanathan was nominated to this position by the President of the United States in 2019 and subsequently unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate on June 18, 2020. As of fiscal year 2023, NSF is a $9.5 billion independent federal agency and the only government agency charged with advancing all fields of scientific discovery, technological innovation, and STEM education.


Panchanathan is a leader in science, engineering, and education with more than three decades of experience. He has a distinguished career in higher education and government, where he has designed and built knowledge enterprises that advance research innovation, strategic partnerships, entrepreneurship, global development, and economic growth.


As Director, Panchanathan maintains leadership roles on several key interagency councils and committees, including co-chair of the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship and a member of the White House CHIPS Implementation Steering Council and the White House Gender Policy Council. He is also chair of the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee and co-vice chair of the Council for Inclusive Innovation.


Panchanathan previously served as the executive vice president of the Arizona State University (ASU) Knowledge Enterprise, where he was also chief research and innovation officer. Additionally, he was the founder and director of the Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing at ASU. Under his leadership, ASU increased research performance fivefold, earning recognition as the fastest-growing and most innovative research university in the U.S.


Before joining NSF, Panchanathan was appointed by the President to serve on the National Science Board, where he was a chair of the Committee on Strategy and a member of the External Engagement and National Science and Engineering Policy committees. Additionally, he was chair of the Council on Research of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and co-chair of the Extreme Innovation Taskforce of the Global Federation of Competitiveness Councils. Arizona’s governor appointed Panchanathan as senior advisor for science and technology in 2018. He was the editor-in-chief of the IEEE Multimedia Magazine and editor and associate editor of several international journals.


Panchanathan’s scientific contributions have advanced the areas of human-centered multimedia computing, haptic user interfaces, and ubiquitous computing technologies for enhancing the quality of life for individuals with different abilities; machine learning for multimedia applications; and media processor designs. He has published nearly 500 articles in refereed journals and conference proceedings and has mentored more than 150 graduate students, postdocs, research engineers, and research scientists, many of whom occupy leading positions in academia and industry.


For his scientific contributions, Panchanathan has received numerous awards, including Honorary Doctorates from prestigious universities, Distinguished Alumnus Awards, the Governor’s Innovator of the Year for Academia Award, the Washington Academy of Sciences Distinguished Career Award, and the IEEE-USA Public Service Award.


Panchanathan is a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, where he also served as vice president for strategic initiatives. He is also a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Canadian Academy of Engineering, the Association for Computing Machinery, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the Society of Optical Engineering.


Panchanathan is married to Sarada “Soumya” Panchanathan, an academic pediatrician and informatician who has taught medical students, pediatric residents, and informatics fellows. They have two adult children, Amritha and Roshan.


About the Host


Dr. Drumm McNaughton, the host of Changing Higher Ed®, is a consultant to higher ed institutions in governance, accreditation, strategy and change, and mergers.


Transcript: Changing Higher Ed Podcast 165 with Host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and Guest Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan:

Funding Research for Tier Two Institutions with NSF


Welcome to Changing Higher Ed, a podcast dedicated to helping higher education leaders improve their institutions, with your host, Dr. Drumm McNaughton, CEO of the Change Leader, a consultancy that helps higher education leaders holistically transform their institutions. Learn more at And now, here’s your host, Drumm McNaughton.


Drumm McNaughton  00:31

Thank you, David.


Our guest today is the Honorable Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan, the director of the National Science Foundation (NSF). Dr. Panch, as he’s known, is a computer scientist and engineer and is the 15th director of the NSF. He is a leader in science engineering education, with over three decades of experience in higher education and government. He has designed and built knowledge enterprises that advance research innovation, strategic partnerships, entrepreneurship, global development, and economic growth.


Under Dr. Panch’s leadership, NSF has made great strides in reaching out to smaller colleges and coalitions to broaden the research across the US. He joins us today to talk about their motto, “Innovation anywhere, opportunities everywhere,” and how NSF can help smaller institutions and communities raise their profiles and support their citizens.


Panch, welcome to the show.


Sethuraman Panchanathan  01:36

I’m delighted to join you, Drumm. It’s a pleasure.


Drumm McNaughton  01:39

I’m so much looking forward to this. If any folks who listen to the podcast are from an R1 or R2 institution, they know the NSF well. But for smaller institutions, they may not know NSF, so I’m really looking forward to being able to explore what NSF is.


Sethuraman Panchanathan  02:00

I’m happy to talk about NSF, Drumm. It’s always a delight to do that. NSF stands for the National Science Foundation, and it was founded in 1950. If I were to put it in a single set of words, what the NSF has made possible close to 75 years later is empowering “People, people, people.” People who are idea generators, discoverers, explorers, who make things possible, like entrepreneurs working in industry and academia, and translators who can take great ideas and build unbelievable societal and economic outcomes for the nation. So, NSF is all about people. To your point, when you say how NSF relates to all institutions, I’m proud to say that NSF is probably an agency that has presence and impact in all 50 states and territories of our great nation.


Drumm McNaughton  03:05

Wow, that’s amazing. How is it that you came to NSF? I know you have a broad background in higher ed, but how did you get to NSF?


Sethuraman Panchanathan  03:15

I was very fortunate to have NSF support me and my ideas by funding various projects of mine. Through that, not only was I able to foster my ideas, but more importantly, train the next generation of researchers and practitioners. I got to know NSF as a person who applied for grants, won some, did not win many, and you learn a lot more through failures than successes, as they say. I also had the unique privilege of being appointed by President Obama to the National Science Board in 2014. This board oversees the National Science Foundation and also advises the president and Congress on science- and technology-related matters. So, I had a much deeper and more insightful view of NSF, having served on the National Science Board.


When this opportunity presented itself in 2020 to become nominated for the director of the National Science Foundation, Drumm, I was thrilled. I always felt that this was an agency that makes amazing things possible all across the nation and has done unbelievable things in the last 75 years. I can give you many examples later. But it has even more potential over the next 7500 years to unleash talent, ideas, and prosperity all across our great nation. Therefore, I felt that this was a perfect time and a match for me to be able to come and participate in the process of what NSF can do for the future.


Drumm McNaughton  05:00

Well, you’ve done so many great things at NSF already. But one of the things that stood out to me during the conversations we had leading to our recording today was your motto, “Innovation anywhere, opportunities everywhere.” That’s NSF to a T, isn’t it?


Sethuraman Panchanathan  05:22

Absolutely. NSF has always been making this happen, Drumm. I’m trying to emphasize and articulate what NSF has done. But even more importantly, what NSF is doing and what we’ll do in the future. What NFS wants to enable are more discoveries, more innovations, and more technological developments at speed and scale.


Drumm McNaughton  05:50

So, if you could relate this “Innovation anywhere, opportunities everywhere” to the DNA of NSF, what you’re doing is taking that DNA and pushing it out so that it touches more people.


Sethuraman Panchanathan  06:08

Wonderful, Drumm. I’m glad you used the word DNA because this is how I have been talking about NSF. As you know, DNA has two strands that are highly interwoven, synergistic, and symbiotic. One of those strands that NSF makes possible is explorations, discoveries, and curiosity-driven research. The other strand that interweaves this is user-inspired, solutions-focused translations or innovations. These are not two different things. We all know that discoveries and explorations make translations and innovations possible. But it is also true that those translations and innovations point to more new discoveries and explorations. This back-and-forth is so rich and truly expresses what NSF makes possible. At this moment in our nation, it is important that we strengthen that at speed and scale.


Drumm McNaughton  07:14

Well, tell me more. There’s something there that is exactly what we need.


Sethuraman Panchanathan  07:22

Yes. We all know that talent and ideas are democratized everywhere in our nation. They are in rural and urban areas across the broad socio-economic spectrum. They are in all 50 states and territories of ordination. They are across our broad and richly diverse nation. So when you say that talent and ideas are democratized, and everywhere, we know that innovation is also possible because of the fact that talent is everywhere. This is a moment, therefore, for us to unleash that idea of opportunities for everyone, everywhere, thereby making possible innovation everywhere and anywhere across our nation.


Let me give you a concrete example if that’s helpful. When I was a graduate student, people were inspired by how academic researchers and industry practitioners all came and worked together at the Bell Labs of the 1980s and ’90s to not only make great discoveries possible, like the transistor, but great people who were trained and inspired by the Bell Labs. Today, they are all doing amazing things. They are entrepreneurs and leaders in industry.


At NSF, we hope to take that kind of inspiration by bringing together academia, industry, government, communities, and more through partnerships to create these crucibles of innovation all across our country around topics and themes that are more akin to the place what I call plays-based innovation. Just on Friday, I was in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. We were launching one of our new programs called Regional Innovation Engines. That competition made possible $44 million investments all across our country around the plays-based innovation topics being lifted up.  


In Hazleton, Pennsylvania, I was with representative Ranking Member Cartwright of the Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Committee of the House. There, we were essentially launching this Regional Innovation Engine pilot around industrial hemp. I never knew that hemp could create unbelievable products. The agricultural backbone is right there. Industrial hemp is being turned into automated building materials that actually capture carbon. Therefore, it is carbon negative. A whole host of things is made possible by all aspects of hemp, ranging from the seed to the stem to the bark; every part of hemp is useful. That’s just one example that demonstrates that innovation can be anywhere.


In that case, they were working in partnership with Penn State University and other community colleges. When you work in those kinds of partnerships, you’ll find that those talents are eager to participate in that kind of prosperity in the region. They are inspired and enabled, and their skills are being developed. You can just imagine future industries and entrepreneurial ventures that create jobs right there, exploiting the innate potential of that region. That’s what I’m talking about.


Drumm McNaughton  11:20

I have a question along those lines. This just kind of popped into my mind. I ended up recently driving up to Colorado Springs for a client engagement. I noticed that there was ethanol in almost all the gasoline there. I’m guessing that was an NSF-funded project, am I right?


Sethuraman Panchanathan  11:41

Absolutely. You will find fingerprints or what I call “tire tracks” to many industries where they have had some fundamental basic research funded by NSF or, of course, in this case, the Department of Energy and other entities. We want this to be not thought of as everything is only NSF. NSF is a huge and important vehicle for ideas and talent being trained and expressed. But other agencies participate and have a mission-driven approach. In this case, it is energy created by the Department of Energy, and NSF works in partnership with such agencies. It’s a whole government approach of how to make sure that STEM ideas are exercised in its fullest form and how STEM talent can be expressed in its fullest form.


When I came to NSF, one of the things that we did, which is an articulation of this, was create the first new NSF directorate in over 30 years called the Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships, or the TIP Directorate. This, Drumm, is a cross-cutting directorate. Whether it’s quantum, AI, biotech, advanced manufacturing, advanced wireless, you name it, this cross-cutting directorate is pulling all these basic discoveries in partnership with industry, economic development, ecosystems, foundations, Venture Capital Partners, and so on into industry-, entrepreneurial-, and venture-based outcomes.


But that’s not it. We talked about DNA earlier. Now that set of experiences and interactions funnels back to create new ideas in mathematics, physics, chemistry, geosciences, biosciences, engineering, and social, behavioral, and economic sciences, or a combination of them all, working together to take on real problems and find real solutions that can be scaled, are cost-effective, impactful, and that results in societal and economic prosperity, as well as ensuring national security.


Drumm McNaughton  14:05

From back in my day when I was working with entrepreneurs in the early ’90s, it sounds like tech transfer on steroids.


Sethuraman Panchanathan  14:19

You said it beautifully. That’s exactly what it is. How can you take full advantage of the fundamental research capacity that is unleashed at scale by NSF’s investments to do tech transfer on steroids, to train the next generation of talent at the highest intensity and intentionality, and to inspire more new discoveries so that we might have even better outcomes and translations in the future at the same time? You can say this is a moment where NSF is on steroids as an agency, and tech transfer is one manifestation of that, if you want to put it that way.


Drumm McNaughton  15:06

I think that’s a good analogy. One of the institutions I worked with just recently did a lot. It goes to the people aspect that you mentioned earlier. Their R1 flagship took all the newly hired faculty and put them through a one-year orientation on how they conduct research, apply for grants, build teams, etc. My sense is that really folds in nicely with your new TIP directorate.


Sethuraman Panchanathan  15:41

Absolutely. It folds nicely with a TIP directorate. I’ll give an exact manifestation of one of the programs that we launched with TIP. You already saw the democratization of innovation ideas that are being funded by NSF. I welcome people to go and look at the type one RIEs that we funded. There’s a nice website where you can see the different projects across the country, and you will be amazed by the ideas being fostered. But this is also about NSF now saying, “We are not only relevant to R1 institutions who are doing amazing work because we democratize ideas. How do we make sure ideas are being democratized at community colleges, minority-serving institutions, and tribal colleges that all have good ideas? How do you build that research and search capacity?


You brought up a very interesting point about this one-year training program. How do you actually build a solid research program? Or how do we build a research enterprise? This is something that is more intentionally done in R1 institutions and some others increasingly. We all know that the research enterprise includes human capital, practices and processes related to research development, research administration, broader impact activities, technology transfer commercialization, corporate relation public-private partnerships, mindful of research integrity, compliance and security, research policy, support of student research training, and research leadership. You see all these components that are being nurtured and fostered in established institutions but not in smaller institutions or ones that don’t have the resources.


I always felt that if ideas are there, how do we provide this sort of support structure for those institutions to also express that talent so that it does not become a downward spiral but an upward spiral? So, we launched a program called GRANTED. GRANTED is an acronym for Growing Research Access through Nationally Transformative Equity and Diversity. How do you make sure that you build the critical research enterprise and the capacity at the national level by making the position skill knowledge needed to build a robust research infrastructure that is broadly inclusive and accessible to all institutions of all sizes and resources? So we have invested in the GRANTED program, and this GRANTED program is going to make it possible to support the development and improvement of sustainable institutional resources, specifically research enterprise support functions and services. We recognize that the barriers that exist in accessing resources to support competitive research, training programs, and projects instead of domains are a limitation to how we are able to express the talent and ideas everywhere.


Drumm McNaughton  19:02

Yeah, and that goes directly to the second portion of your motto, “Opportunities everywhere.” GRANTED provides the research, education, partnerships, collaboration, and research infrastructure.


Sethuraman Panchanathan  19:21

Absolutely. We launched a program called Enabling Partnership to increase Innovation Capacity, or EPIC. This is a $20 million investment, which helps minority-serving, two-year undergraduate and emerging research institutions to build the infrastructure and access the resources they need to grow external partnerships and tap into the regional innovation ecosystem. So this program, for example, provides interactive training and network opportunities to build collaborations.


Now, let’s talk about “opportunities everywhere.” This is very, very critical, as you said. How do we move forward and accomplish what NSF needs to do to energize “opportunities everywhere.” We all know that millions of talented individuals across our country want the chance to participate in the system, solve real-world problems, and revitalize their communities. We cannot, must not, and should not leave them behind. What we are doing is focusing on four strategic areas on that one.


The first one is research. How do you create a foundation of knowledge to work from NSF’s investments in a range of curiosity-driven and use-inspired scientific research in order to increase our understanding of the signs of broadening participation? So we have programs like Broadening Participation in STEM, Entrepreneurship, and Innovation called BP Innovate. We have a program called EDU Racial Equity in STEM Education program. These are programs by which we’re using what NSF is really good at. Through formal research processes, how do we examine the limitations of people participating, and how do we increase inclusion and accessibility in the innovation and entrepreneurial space?


The second dimension is education. How do we invest in interventions that enhance educational opportunities, build capacity, and increase student uptake and career sustainability? We have many examples of this, but I’m going to give you only one: the Robot Noise Teacher Scholarship Program. This program supports the recruitment, preparation, and development of effective, diverse, and capable STEM teachers who can teach in high-need school districts and serve a diverse student population, creating important role models. As you know, teachers, everyone can point to a teacher that truly inspires us. How do we get that at scale so every student can be inspired by that STEM spark?


To do this, Drumm, we need to develop partnerships. That’s the third dimension, which is a critical component of how we can have meaningful engagement throughout our nation’s communities, research associations, and like-minded nations. Let me give you an example. Last year, we announced a $8.6 million partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Schmidt Futures, and the Walton Family Foundation to help fund initiatives that will improve the quality of US STEM education for all students.


The last and the fourth one is the research infrastructure piece. We are also investing in our nation’s research infrastructure so that students, teachers, administrators, and researchers at every type of institution—and I want to underscore that this is at every type of institution across our nation has access to the tools and resources they need to accelerate research and education. That is the context GRANTED. That’s the infrastructure that we need to make sure that we are growing this research access for all institutions for everyone across our nation.


Drumm McNaughton  23:28

That’s amazing. I’ve always thought about things from a holistic perspective. It’s rare to see government entities doing that. So, congratulations. This is fabulous. So, for a small institution that only has a few faculty members who do want to conduct research, what can they do?


Sethuraman Panchanathan  23:54

All they need to do is to get in touch with our GRANTED program coordinator. We have an Office of Integrative Activities. Get in touch with our GRANTED program coordinator to see how they can take their institution, faculty, and ideas and present them in the highest possible competitive form to NSF so their ideas can be invested in. So NSF is ready to serve. Please take advantage of NSF to see how you can lift your ideas and talent at the institutions you are in to the highest level of possibilities. We are here to engage with you to see how we can form a partnership that will make sure that investments that catalyze progress can be made everywhere across our nation.


Drumm McNaughton  24:44

I think that’s really great. I applied for an NSF grant shortly after getting my doctorate, and I got turned down. It was like, “Okay, I guess this isn’t the way I’m going.” Providing people on staff like you do, who can help coach people through the process and give them ideas on how to do it, is phenomenal. If I’d had that years ago, I might not be doing podcasts right now. I might be doing more research.


Sethuraman Panchanathan  25:16

You can still do research. I’m doing this podcast because you’re so good at it, Drumm. We don’t want you to give up that thing that you’re really good at. But you’re absolutely correct. There are a lot of people who get disillusioned by the fact that their ideas somehow never rose up to the level of being invested in so they could express their ideas in their fullest form to benefit humanity, society, their institution, themselves, the research aspirations, and most importantly, to lift up students that they deeply care about. As a faculty member, I deeply, deeply always care about students and want to bring out the best in them. That’s what NSF is engaged in. As I said earlier, “people, people, people.” That’s the business NSF is in.


Drumm McNaughton  26:02

Tell me a little bit more about mentoring.


Sethuraman Panchanathan  26:05

It’s a very, very important component in how you lift people up. As I said, we all can find a teacher who inspired us, but we can also attribute this to mentors in high school and universities. I’ve had many mentors. I’ve had mentors outside in the community and industry who taught me about the important things of how to work on societally meaningful problems and how to make tangible progress with ideas. We all rely on mentors. Mentorship is an exceedingly important thing for everyone. For everyone. So, increasingly, I’m very heartened to see all education institutions putting more emphasis on not just teaching, but mentorship. So, I’m thrilled that NSF is here to support a number of programs that provide such mentorship. As you know, every dollar we invest in, in terms of talent, is tied to faculty members, researchers, and institutions who have implicitly made mentorship a critical component of what they do and have made the investment to ensure it’s being used in its fullest form to express that talent.


Drumm McNaughton  27:21

So, with the mentoring, do you have a program? I’m guessing it’s GRANTED that helps mentor institutions on setting up research programs? Is this the GRANTED program?


Sethuraman Panchanathan  27:34

Yes. Absolutely. The GRANTED program not only has direct access to all of the features that create a successful research enterprise, but it also connects you with the institutions that have that already in place. They are able to mentor and network with you. They formed a network of institutions that help one another and express their ideas in the fullest form. All of this is the mission of GRANTED. How do we do this at speed and scale across all ranges of institutions across all parts of our country?


Drumm McNaughton  28:11

I think that’s going to be a really big hit for you.


Sethuraman Panchanathan  28:14

I hope and wish that this will result in tangible outcomes that are achieved in a rapid timescale. I already see evidence of that in terms of the Regional Innovation Engines and the kinds of ideas they are coming up with there. I know that over time, we will see the metric of how institutions are participating and succeeding as they create the unbelievable set of outcomes that we desire, namely, through people who are mentored, trained, and prepared for the future.


As you know, the two-year, minority-serving, and Research 2 institutions that are serving our nation so well have an amazing set of talent of a very diverse nature. To lift up that talent and give them all the opportunities they deserve should be the goal of an agency like NSF, in addition to helping them express the ideas and talent in their established institutions in their fullest form.


Drumm McNaughton  29:31

Well, Panch, I thank you so much for your leadership there and all you’ve done. I’ve been seeing a very different NSF over the past few years, and it’s really wonderful to see. So thank you.


Sethuraman Panchanathan  29:46

Thank you so much. Drumm. As I said earlier, I want all your listeners to know we are here to serve. We’re here to serve. I always say NSF is a catalyst, enabler, and investor. But the real work happens at the institutions. I’m grateful you expressed thanks to me. In turn, I express gratitude to all your listeners from those institutions that are doing a fantastic job every day. We want to be there to help, serve, and see how we can make sure their aspirations of doing more for their communities are met. We are here to work with them in partnership.


Drumm McNaughton  30:25

Very good. Two questions. First, what are three takeaways for university presidents and boards? What is the message you want them to hear?


Sethuraman Panchanathan  30:34

I’m going to limit that to what I call input processing. I’m a computer scientist and an output. On the input front, if institutions can really partake in ensuring that the highest-quality STEM inspiration happens in K-12 schools so that the talent that comes from the K-12 institutions to universities and community colleges will want to come to your institution. This will broaden the kinds of students who would typically not gain access to those institutions.


Second, within the institution, break down silos and barriers so students can major or minor in multiple disciplines and partake in entrepreneurial, research, industry, or internship experiences. Mold the individual while they are at the university. Breaking down barriers and silos means that the student gets the rich exposure to all inspirations. They may be enrolled in computer science, but they can take courses in psychology and anthropology and so on, so they become, as you said, holistic individuals when they graduate from the university with all these experiences and take on real-world challenges. Use this team spirit and collective inspiration to solve real-world problems.


In partnership on the output side, how can you partner with local cities, industries, local entrepreneur ecosystems, and all kinds of communities in the region? The output is not only the great talent that you send out. The talent will hopefully be inspired by that partnership and deliver for their partners. That’s what builds prosperous ecosystems of prosperity.


So all three components, input—as broad and enriched as it can be—processing—as enriched and empowered as the students and talent can be—and, of course, faculty having the ability to express their ideas in the fullest form by making amazing discoveries and translations. Then, for the output, how do you take responsibility for the entire region?


Drumm McNaughton  33:52

Thank you. Those are great. And, of course, NSF certainly will recognize grants from researchers who partner with the community. It’s one of those little keys to get checked off to say, “Oh, you want your application to rise up to the top of the pile? Do this.” What’s next for you? What’s next for NSF?


Sethuraman Panchanathan  34:16

We are essentially looking at this agency as an agency of transformation and innovation that makes “opportunities everywhere, innovation anywhere.” I’m deeply committed to that. That’s why I came to NSF. I’m deeply committed to seeing that we make “opportunities everywhere, innovation anywhere” not just a tagline but a reality everywhere across our nation. That’s what I’m singularly focused on. And when you talk about me, I never think about what is next for me. I’m focused on what I need to do now. That always has been my focus. That automatically takes care of where things happen and where the journey takes you. You need to do the thing that you need to do right now to make a difference.


Drumm McNaughton  35:09

Spoken as a true student of yoga. Be in the present. Panch, this has been an honor, a privilege, and a pleasure. Thank you, sir.


Sethuraman Panchanathan  35:22

Thank you. Drumm. It’s been truly an honor and a pleasure to talk with you, too.


Drumm McNaughton  35:27

I look forward to the next time. Let’s do this in six or nine months and see what you’ve done.


Sethuraman Panchanathan  35:32

Happy to join you again. Absolutely. That’s a guarantee. I’ll be happy to do that.


Drumm McNaughton  35:38

Very good, sir. Take care. Thanks for taking time out of your busy day to join us.


Sethuraman Panchanathan  35:42

Thank you, Drumm.


Drumm McNaughton  35:45

Thanks for listening today, and a special thank you to our guest, Dr. Panchanathan, for sharing what NSF is doing and where it’s going. Panch, thank you. I look forward to having you on the show again in the future. Our next guest is Dr. Raj Echambadi, president of the Illinois Institute of Technology. Raj will be joining us to talk about what Illinois Tech has done to reimagine education, including building new pathways to inclusion and affordability. Thanks for listening. Until next time.



Changing Higher Ed is a production of the Change Leader, a consultancy committed to transforming higher education institutions. Find more information about this topic and show notes on this episode at If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe to the show. We would also value your honest rating and review. Email any questions, comments, or recommendations for topics or guests to Changing Higher Ed is produced and hosted by Dr. Drumm McNaughton. Post-production is by David L. White.

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