A New “STEM Grand Challenge” Competition

June 22nd, 2011 by Erwin Gianchandani Post a comment »

Office of Naval Research (ONR) [image courtesy ONR]At a recent Naval STEM conference sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said,  “I have committed to doubling the Navy’s investment in STEM education over the next five years… We are going to double it in a targeted and innovative way so that we reach the maximum number of people and have the maximum impact.” The secretary used his keynote to introduce a roadmap aimed at renewing the Navy’s focus on providing educational opportunities for future naval scientists and engineers — ultimately increasing total dollars committed to STEM education initiatives to more than $100 million by 2015.

As part of the roadmap, ONR has announced a STEM Grand Challenge competition to fund up to $2.5 million per team over five years for the development of “adaptive, generalizable intelligent tutors” to assist the teaching of STEM courses in middle and high school. The competition will proceed as a three-year, two-phase effort, with up to four teams selected for Phase 1 and up to two teams selected for Phase 2. The deadline for proposals (in the form of white papers) is 2pm ET on Aug. 1; full proposals are due by 2pm ET on Sept. 30.

Here’s the relevant language from the ONR call:

The STEM Grand Challenge will lead to new approaches for building intelligent tutors that are able to:

  • Increase comprehension of instructional content over a fixed teaching duration and curriculum
  • Train to higher standards of competence (e.g., expertise), not simply enabling better recall
  • Accelerate the development of problem solving, reasoning, and decision making skills
  • Generalize across content domains and trainee audiences

Performers, selected on the basis of white paper/proposal evaluations, will compete in developing STEM-based intelligent tutors that produce educational performance improvements of up to two standard deviations in a middle- to high-school setting, and that generalize to a naval student audience, with similar results.


The intelligent tutor should focus on curriculum content from one or more STEM domains, and/or core capabilities that facilitate STEM education, like reading comprehension. The tutor should be tailored to one or more grade levels in the middle- to high-school continuum (grades 7-12).


ONR encourages blended solutions, including both a traditional curriculum emphasis (e.g., reading comprehension for mathematics word problems; reading comprehension skills for scientific and technical documents) as well as naval-focused (e.g., physics or math in the classroom, leading to principles of electrical engineering in the Navy schoolhouse). Careful attention should be applied in selecting the domain and grade levels to ensure that the tutor and tutoring approach will successfully address both classroom and naval training needs and audiences. Solutions may be computer, laptop or hand-held based or combinations thereof…

To learn more, check out the ONR website.

(Contributed by Erwin Gianchandani, CCC Director)