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Idaho Universities Awarded $20 Million NSF Grant

By: Sherry Squires   Published 8:45 am / June 4, 2013

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Idaho researchers will study the ways society and landscapes are interconnected thanks to a new $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation, or NSF.

Over the course of five years, the grant will fund a project that aims to help Idahoans make science-based decisions about natural resources and provide them with a better understanding of the complex relationship between people and the environment.

The researchers will investigate the patterns and effects of growth in three of Idaho’s mid-sized urban areas near sagebrush, forest and agricultural landscapes — Boise/Treasure Valley, Coeur d’Alene/Post Falls and Pocatello/Idaho Falls. The researchers also will study how society perceives the benefits of cities and landscapes. Stakeholders across the state will be involved throughout the project, which has great potential to help communities improve quality of life, sustain the environment and grow the economy.

“This grant addresses several areas of priority for Boise State University, including research relevant to our community and state and the recruitment of students into the critical STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields,” said Mark Rudin, Boise State vice president for research and economic development. “We are committed to research that helps drive economic development and improve Idaho’s quality of life.”

Shawn Benner, Geosciences, will serve as principal investigator on the grant for Boise State. It will support a number of important initiatives at Boise State including hiring five new faculty members and research scientists, a program to engage undergraduate students in research and an effort to build links between Boise State research and the community.

“This grant will also support a major research initiative on the the important role of water resources in the Treasure Valley, with researchers from the geosciences, engineering, economics and urban planning studying how a growing and a changing climate will alter our water use into the future,” Benner said. “This work will help Idaho make decisions that support a sustainable economic future and preserve our unique quality of life.”

EpscorThe NSF awarded the grant to Idaho’s statewide Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, or EPSCoR, which brings together the University of Idaho, Boise State University, Idaho State University and many of the state’s two- and four-year higher education institutions. This is Idaho’s seventh consecutive NSF EPSCoR grant, and the largest to date.

“A major benefit of this project will be improved public understanding of ecosystems and their public benefits,” said Peter Goodwin, Idaho NSF EPSCoR project director. “A greater ability to provide science-based information to support policy and management decisions will help protect and improve quality of life and the health of our ecosystems in Idaho.

The interdisciplinary research team will include faculty members in physical and social geography, economics, sociology, ecology, hydrology, public policy, urban planning, computer science, communication and visualization. The grant will support a total of 11 new faculty members strategically located at Boise State University, the University of Idaho and Idaho State University.

The project will fund dozens of student research projects and internships, with an emphasis on recruiting students from groups underrepresented in STEM. The project also will bring together college faculty, undergraduate students, journalists, and high-school teachers and students in place-based research and education at the study areas.

In addition, the EPSCoR grant will continue to strengthen cyber-infrastructure in Idaho as researchers and students share and analyze data gathered during this and resulting projects.

Research leaders at Idaho’s public universities spoke in support of the project.

“This grant will help the research universities collaboratively build expertise that is necessary to address some of the problems facing the state of Idaho,” said Jack McIver, University of Idaho vice president for research and economic development. “The successful funding of this proposal reflects both the quality of faculty members at Idaho universities and the ability of the universities to work together to achieve a common good.”

“This is a milestone for Idaho as it allows our best scientists to address complex ecosystems and allows the identification of ‘actionable science’ to sustain our valuable natural resources,” said Howard Grimes, Idaho State University vice president for research and economic development.

The grant’s focus is aligned with Idaho’s new five-year strategic research plan for higher education, which identifies important areas where Idaho’s universities can work together and take advantage of their complementary research strengths. This statewide community of researchers and education also will contribute to national research priorities.

EPSCoR stimulates research in key areas by building critical infrastructure that allows Idaho to become fully competitive in NSF and other agencies’ research programs. EPSCoR is led by a state committee made up of 16 members with diverse professional backgrounds from the public and private sectors and from all regions of the state.

The Idaho NSF EPSCoR office and project director are located at the University of Idaho, and partner institutions are Boise State University and Idaho State University. More information about Idaho NSF EPSCoR can be found at www.idahoepscor.org.