National Collaborative for Research on Food, Energy, and Water Education (NC-FEW)

Contact Person

Cory Forbes, University of Nebraska Lincoln


National Collaborative for Research on Food, Energy, and Water Education (NC-FEW) has received funding from NSF's ECR-EHR Core Research for a Research Coordination Network to build a transdisciplinary community of education researchers and practitioners in the FEW-nexus. To learn more, visit:

Past work

Problem to be Addressed

Worldwide, there has been rapidly growing interest in research, education, and discourse around the Food-Energy-Water-Nexus (FEW-Nexus). The FEW-Nexus serves as a conceptual framework to describe and aid in addressing complex interrelationships associated with coupled human-natural systems at local, regional, and global scales. The inter-linkages between water, energy, and food means that changes in one system can have far-reaching impacts in others, resulting in significant ecological, economic, social, and political consequences.

The education component of these FEW-Nexus efforts has been underemphasized and under-represented, despite compelling evidence for the very real and pressing global challenges in the FEW-Nexus, the need to foster science literacy in America's citizenry, and necessity of meeting ever-evolving needs of the STEM workforce. These challenges provide a rationale for sustained, systemic, and interdisciplinary education efforts focused on food, energy, and water issues in a wide array of educational contexts. All students must be actively supported to learn to leverage scientific knowledge and negotiate its intersection with social, cultural, and economic values to make science informed decisions about FEW issues.

Currently, no systematic discipline-based education research (DBER) effort exists to study strategies, processes, and outcomes of FEW education efforts. Capitalizing fully on this significant opportunity will require transdisciplinary collaborations that can be greatly facilitated by cultivating a community around FEW education and DBER that is national in scope. NSEC-affiliated centers are uniquely positioned to synergize this effort with an emphasis on STEM. This project affords NSEC the opportunity to be a critical incubator for growth of a targeted, transdisciplinary, timely, and high-impact DBER community through which to cultivate scientific literacy.

Proposed Deliverables

  • Build a network of FEW DBER scholars called the National Collaborative for Food Energy Water Education (NC-FEW).
  • Host a transdisciplinary 2-day workshop to develop a blueprint for systemic, high-impact DBER in the FEW-Nexus.
  • Conduct a nationwide survey of FEW educators.
  • Develop a NC-FEW organizational summary document that has the mission/vision statement, 3 and 5-year workplans (including NC-FEW national conference, DBER projects), and recruitment plan.
  • Anticipated publication of a synthesis report of survey findings and the conference, preferably in a peer-reviewed STEM education journal, that reflects the current state of NC-FEW.

Results from Year 1 of the NC-FEW RAC

The Innovating Teaching and Learning in the Food-Energy-Water-Nexus: Toward a National Collaborative for Food, Energy, & Water Systems Education (NC-FEW) conference was held May 22-23, 2018, in the Washington, D.C. metro area at the Virginia Tech Executive Briefing Center. This 2-day invited conference drew upon expertise of faculty from around the world leading educational programs (K-12, undergraduate, informal, non-formal) and education research grounded in the FEW-Nexus. Conference participants had opportunities to share their research and engage with colleagues from a diverse array of disciplinary backgrounds (education, STEM disciplines, agriculture, natural resources) to articulate and shape discourse around a systemic approach to FEW-Nexus education and education research.

The conference resulted in the development of a framework for a National Collaborative for Food, Energy, & Water Education (NC-FEW) and laid the foundations for a transdisciplinary community of FEW-Nexus education scholars. It is anticipated that participants will also have an opportunity to disseminate their work in the form of conference proceedings and/or an edited volume.

In addition to the NSEC RAC funding, support for this conference was also provided by the following organizations: USDA-NIFA Higher Education Challenge Grant; University of Nebraska-Lincoln Ag Research Division; Virginia Tech; and USDA-NIFA Multistate Research Committee/Hatch funding.

Participants included 43 invitees and a number of additional support staff from an array of institutions from around the U.S. and the world. There were 8 NSEC-affiliated STEM centers represented at the conference.

Discussions in educational context teams focused on relevant research, standards and curriculum in which FEW issues are relevant, and identification of core opportunities for impact of FEW education efforts in these domains. This information is being actively compiled and translated into a visioning document to serve as a resource for the community moving forward.

As a next step, the project leadership team is developing a proposal for a Research Coordination Networks (RCN) for submission in response to the current INFEWS RFA ( We are also in discussions with a publisher to work with conference attendees on an edited book reflecting the state of this growing community and outcomes of the conference.

NSEC Centers Participating in NC-FEW RAC

Institution, STEM Center, & Research Program


University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Nebraska Collaborative for Food, Energy, & Water Education


Center for Science, Mathematics and Computer Education

Dr. Cory Forbes

Dr. Leilani Arthurs

Purdue University
Center for Advancing the Teaching and Learning of STEM (CATALYST)

Dr. Hui-Hui Wang

Dr. Lynn Bryan

North Carolina State University
NC State STEM Education Initiative

Dr. KC Busch

Dr. Kathryn Stevenson

Virginia Tech
Center for Research in SEAD Education

Dr. Hannah Scherer

Dr. Liesl Baum

University of Oregon
Science Literacy Program (SLP)

Dr. Nicola Barber

Eleanor Vandegrift

Michigan State University
CREATE for STEM Institute

Dr. Kelly Millenbah

Dr. Joe Krajcik

University of Minnesota
STEM Education Center

Dr. Brad Greiman

Dr. Gillian Roehrig