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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration recently launched an equity action plan with steps to offer more resources and opportunities to faculty members and students at minority-serving institutions. The plan is in response to an executive order issued by President Joe Biden last year that aims to promote diversity in the federal workforce.

As a part of the new plan, the agency will conduct an analysis of the hurdles researchers at minority-serving institutions face in securing NASA grants and cooperation agreements. NASA is also in the process of transitioning to a dual anonymous peer-review system for grant proposals, where names of reviewers and proposers are kept anonymous to reduce implicit bias.

The agency also plans to budget $5 million in fiscal year 2022 and $7.5 million in fiscal year 2023 to found the Science Mission Directorate Bridge Program to build more robust relationships with historically Black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions. Funds will go toward paid research experiences for faculty members and students.

These efforts “seek to look at areas where barriers may have been unintentionally placed in front of minority-serving institutions and how they engage with us as an agency and what are the ways or strategies or approaches that we can then aid those institutions in being connected,” said Torry Johnson, the program manager for NASA’s Minority Undergraduate Research and Education Project.

Lodriguez Murray, senior vice president of public policy and government affairs at the United Negro College Fund, praised NASA’s efforts to more deliberately extend opportunities to HBCUs and said he hopes other federal agencies will follow suit.

He believes more research grants for HBCU faculty members could be especially impactful.

“If you don’t get those basic building blocks of research in your career, and early in your career, you’re likely not to have a successful one,” he said. “So, to specifically target minority researchers at HBCUs is a big deal. It shows me NASA’s willingness to lead on this subject.”