From EPSCoR to E-CORE and E-RISE: Evaluating the NSF’s New Grant Programs

September 10, 2023 — by Elizabeth McGee

It’s a time of change for those who apply for or hold EPSCoR grants through the National Science Foundation (NSF). As most EPSCoR states know, the current EPSCoR grants are sunsetting and two new grants are taking its place: the EPSCoR Collaborations for Optimizing Research Ecosystems (E-CORE) and the EPSCoR Research Incubators for STEM Excellence (E-RISE) grants are taking their place. As a consulting agency with a decade of experience evaluating EPSCoR grants, LEAP Consulting is well-versed in EPSCoR grant changes and is ready to support the shift of evaluation efforts associated with the new grants. 

Background of EPSCoR Grants

The initial EPSCoR grant program was designed to enhance research competitiveness of targeted jurisdictions by strengthening their STEM research, education, and workforce capacities. To date, they have traditionally supported research directly, while also building research infrastructure such as STEM pipelines coming from the K-12, undergraduate, and graduate educational systems.  Evidently, the sustainability and network effects of these efforts could be improved even more by realigning the grant structure.  

Introduction to E-CORE and E-RISE

So arises the E-CORE and E-RISE. These are two separate streams of funding, and an EPSCoR-jurisdiction can have multiple of such grants going simultaneously, unlike the previous EPSCoR grants. The E-CORE program supports jurisdictions to build capacity in targeted research infrastructure cores. The crucial difference between the E-CORE and the old EPSCoR programs is that the former does not support research directly!  It is all about developing, enhancing, and increasing the sustainability of the structure that supports research. This includes administrative structure, facilities, workforce, and educational development.  If an E-CORE doesn’t support research directly, then how are researchers going to fund equipment, postdocs, conference activities, and all the other costly parts of doing research?  

Challenges and Uncertainties

This is where E-RISE comes in.  It supports the incubation of research teams.  However, not just anyone in an EPSCoR-approved state can apply.  Your jurisdiction first needs to have a Jurisdictional Steering Committee with an adopted Science and Technology Plan and an active E-CORE grant awarded somewhere in your jurisdiction.  

LEAP’s Approach to Evaluation

The first E-CORE and E-RISE grants haven’t even been awarded at this time, so we are a bit in the wild west—no set infrastructure. No real precedent nor clear understanding of what the NSF holds as the ideal grant proposal.  Reading between the lines, we here at LEAP believe that the NSF cares a lot about having a solid research infrastructure in place first. Before they will fund the research itself.  This includes a serious effort towards enhancing sustainability of research and research partnerships.  That is, researchers should be working across disciplinary and academic boundaries and also be applying for loads of non-EPSCoR funding.  Your jurisdiction’s primary E-CORE should serve as a hub in supporting these efforts.  

How are we at LEAP planning to evaluate E-CORE and E-RISE’s?  We can conduct a needs assessment to see how you can best support your jurisdiction to find more funding. We can design a Logic Model to provide a rigorous evaluation. Can perform a Network Analysis to see the topology and resource flow of your research infrastructure.  

Contact Information

LEAP is here to support your visioning, strategy, and evaluation while transitioning to the E-CORE and E-RISE model. We’ll support your proposal writing efforts and develop an evaluation plan, gratis!  Full transparency, of course we hope you’ll choose us to be your external evaluator should your proposal be awarded. But there is certainly no obligation to do so. The first deadlines for the E-CORE and E-RISE grants are 12/6/23 and 1/16/24, so reach out now.  Contact Daniel ( ) or Elizabeth ( directly or reach out to us on the Contact Us page of our website.