NSF Waterman Award Honoree Natalie King Advances Service-Oriented Scholarship

For triple gator Natalie King (B.S. ’09, M.Ed. ’11, Ph.D. ’16), it all comes down to service. Her drive to improve STEM education for Black girls while partnering with established community organizations is garnering national attention. Most recently, King was awarded the 2023 NSF Alan T. Waterman Award, the nation’s highest honor for early career scientists and engineers.

Service-oriented scholarship “is so intertwined,” King said, “that it’s hard for me to talk about my teaching without mentioning my service and scholarship. Everything is intertwined in a very cohesive way.”

Since we last spoke with King in 2020, she’s continued to work on projects associated with her NSF Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program Award and NSF Faculty Early Career Development Award — as well as lead the I AM STEM organization. Together, these projects reflect her multifaceted approach to addressing disparities in STEM education. 

King’s goal is to look “at how we can bring together stakeholders so that we’re not operating in silos.” This approach, she attests, allows educators to “provide high quality, comprehensive programs to youth, especially Black and brown children who may live in low-income communities.” 

Being honored with the Waterman award, she said, reflects the confidence the NSF has in her commitment to scholarship that serves the public.

“I’m here in the academy because of the community, and I keep that at the forefront. I want to inspire people to do the same — because we have to humanize academia.” She elaborated, “What’s really important? What lives have you been able to change if most of our scholarly work is hidden behind paywalls in academic journals where the lay person does not have access?”

Taking this public-first approach was a risk, but it has paid off for King. 

“I’m in spaces where I can say, to organizations like the National Science Foundation and National Academy of Sciences ‘look, we need to rethink what we’re doing and figure out ways that we can fund people who are in the community already doing this work.'” 

This has been the cornerstone of King’s approach to science education since her time working with advisor Rose Pringle, Ph.D., in the Science Education doctoral program

“At one point, Dr. Pringle said, ‘Natalie, if you don’t find a way to connect your service to scholarship, you won’t make it in academia.’ It was exactly what I needed to hear: for me to be strategic about how I engage in this work and still be successful as an educational researcher,” King said.

This pointed advice from Pringle “allowed me to flourish,” King said. The research agenda King developed for her dissertation work evolved into several long-term projects centered around addressing access to STEM spaces.  

Using the Noyce grant, King worked to recruit 27 STEM professionals to become middle and high school teachers in the metro Atlanta area. There, they used their baccalaureate knowledge to teach in classrooms while working on their M.A.T degrees and teaching certification. 

So far, the program has not experienced attrition, which is notable given national teaching trends. Connection underlies this cohort, King’s team  continues to offer signature experiences toward becoming highly effective STEM teachers and leaders serving children who deserve the best..  

King is also in the midst of a five-year longitudinal study with a cohort of girls from the Atlanta area. Unique to this study is its real-time examination of identity development rather than the more common retrospective approach. By inviting the girls to come to camp at Georgia State University from 8th grade through high school graduation in the summers and year round mentorship and support, King hopes to develop a deeper understanding of how they develop STEM identities.

“Before this partnership, many of the girls hadn’t been to our campus. We’re trying to open up opportunities and give them the freedom to dream about what their futures could look like,” King said.

King is optimistic about her research projects, which will be aided by the prize that accompanies the Waterman Award. But, more than anything, she’s excited by the opportunities this is creating for students and teachers in her community. “Beyond this being a prestigious award, I’m grateful for the space to have influence and to be in rooms where I can amplify the  voices of youth, parents, teachers, and community advocates connected to this powerful grassroots movement to be heard.”

NSF director Sethuraman Panchanathan, Rose Pringle, Ph.D., Natalie King, Ph.D. and chair of the National Science Board, Dan Reed
Natalie King, Ph.D., smiling in a lab coat

Natalie King, Ph.D.