Grant Proposal Time and the Unexpected Benefits of CSTA Chapters

Chris Stephenson, executive director of CSTA.
Chris Stephenson, executive director of ACM's Computer Science Teachers Association.

It is that time of year again. All across the country, computer science faculty members are preparing to submit their grant proposals. This means that they are also sending requests to CSTA for involvement in their grants and for letters of support to accompany their grant proposals.

CSTA receives so many requests for grant project involvement and letters of support that we had to set up a protocol to deal with them all. The protocol defines three different kinds of CSTA engagement:

  • Principal or Co-Principal Investigator
  • Paid Subcontractor and
  • Letter of support

Each of these is defined and, although each involves a different process for making the request, the CSTA Executive Committee uses the same criteria to evaluate every request. These are:

  • The overall quality of the project (as described).
  • The extent to which the project is consistent with CSTA's mission.
  • The extent to which the project forwards CSTA's goals and objectives.
  • The extent to which the project will benefit CSTA members.
  • The extent to which the curriculum goals of the project reflect CSTA's curriculum priorities and documents.
  • The extent to which the project may or may not be in conflict with proposals that CSTA is submitting to the same or similar grant programs or institutions.
  • Institutional membership in CSTA.

These may seem like a lot of requirements for a letter of support, but this is the only way to make sure that CSTA recommends only those projects that are worthy of the support of our 16,000 members and that we use our resources, including our reputation, to support those institutions that, in turn, support CSTA and its members.

It is perhaps not surprising that the most important factor in CSTA's involvement in national, regional, and local computer science education projects is the phenomenal success of the CSTA regional chapters program. Thanks especially to the work of CSTA Chapter Liaison, Fran Trees, there are now more than 53 CSTA chapters in the U.S. and Canada and more are added each month.

Many of these chapters are playing a direct role in several very large grants from the National Science Foundation's CE21 grants program. They are serving not just as peer-to-peer professional learning communities, but as centers for innovation, professional development, and advocacy. The chapters are also hot-houses of CSTA's blossoming leadership programs and exemplars of mutually-supportive relationships between K-12 educators and post-secondary faculty.

Over the years, it has become increasingly easier to understand why the chapters prove so attractive to faculty members looking for grant partners. The chapters provide a direct link to teachers and students. They are a place where the ingenuity of research can meet the realities of classroom practice. The CSTA chapters provide an invaluable meeting of the minds for computer science educators of all levels.

Since their inception, the chapters have also been perceived as providing an invaluable link between K-12 computer science educators and post-secondary mentors. But this weekend at SIGCSE, I learned that CSTA's chapters are being viewed in a new and unexpected way. They are increasingly seen as an important resource for post-secondary faculty who are similarly in need of mentoring.  As Dale Reed from the University of Illinois Chicago noted: "As computer science faculty in universities, we know a lot about computer science but many of us have had absolutely no training in teaching. Being part of a CSTA chapter gives us access to people who can help us learn to be better teachers". As is true in the best cases, the mentoring goes in both directions.

If you would like to become more involved on a CSTA chapter, feel free to contact me at and I will introduce you to a wonderful community of practice.

Chris Stephenson
CSTA Executive Director

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