WMU only Michigan university among 32 finalists in NSF Idea Machine competition

Contact: Diana Berkshire Hearit

KALAMAZOO, Mich. —The next big idea to shape the future of science, technology, engineering and math research in the United States could be hatched at Western Michigan University.

Three submissions from WMU faculty and administrators were selected by the National Science Foundation as contenders for the grand prize in the NSF 2026 Idea Machine Competition. The entries were among 32 selected from a pool of more than 800 entries from across the country. WMU is the only Michigan institution included in the field of finalists, which includes entries from researchers at universities such as Harvard, Columbia and Duke.

The three WMU video pitches include the following:

  • The STEM Teaching and Learning IncubatorDr. Todd Ellis, assistant professor of geography and science education, focuses on empowering K-12 educators to develop new approaches to teaching and learning STEM disciplines by providing a regional hub for instructors that offers support for design, implementation, evaluation and dissemination of their ideas.
  • Reversibility: Future of Life on Earth; Dr. Bilinda Straight, professor of anthropology and of gender and women’s studies, asks how the reversibility, irreversibility and tipping points of different types of systems are determined and how this could potentially impact the future of life on earth. Addressing this question requires novel ways to examine interconnections between systems that may include human experience and motivation.
  • #WhyNotMe: STEM Diversity DriversDr. Terri Goss Kinzy, vice president for research and professor of biological sciences, and Dr. Lori Wingate, director of research at The Evaluation Center, discuss novel ways to identify experiences that increase the success of underrepresented professionals in STEM fields.

The video pitches are open to public comment and analysis until June 26. Next, a Blue-Ribbon panel will select 12 Big Ideas to invite for virtual interviews. From this pool of 12, the NSF leadership will announce up to four winning Big Ideas.

The public is invited to follow the competition online and in social media.

Bronco Big Idea

The internal Bronco Big Idea winners were selected by a committee of junior faculty and graduate students, who are the future of STEM. The winners were Ellis, who receives a $6,000 research award; and two undergraduate students, Patrick Leny and Marsad Zoardar, who each will receive a $1,000 scholarship and an additional $5,000 award to conduct research. To be eligible to win in the WMU competition, individuals had to submit their ideas both to the NSF 2026 Big Idea Machine and to the internal Bronco Big Idea competition.