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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI awarded $3 million grant to support research on local coastal environmental issues

Media Contact: Wendy Roworth, 401-874-2773

KINGSTON, R.I. -- August 4, 2005 -- The University of Rhode Island has been awarded more than $3 million from the National Science Foundation that will enable it to make important strides in environmental research and graduate education.

The five-year grant, through NSF’s Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program, is designed to improve graduate education by providing students with interdisciplinary training and opportunities to seek solutions to real-world problems. It will award two-year fellowships to 25 doctoral students studying environmental science and policy.

“Without the depth of many other research universities in any one discipline, URI has chosen to be among the leaders in the nation on interdisciplinary work,” said URI President Robert L. Carothers. “With this grant, our faculty have been recognized not just for their individual talents, but also for their unique ability to combine their talents for a collective purpose.”

Just five percent of the applicants to the NSF program are funded, making it one of the most competitive programs in the country.

“Part of the reason for the University’s success in the environmental field is because it is an active partner working with local, state and federal agencies, as well as non-governmental organizations, to use science to identify solutions to coastal issues,” said Governor Donald Carcieri, who supported URI’s grant proposal. “It does an excellent job of pooling its intellectual resources with legislative leaders and officials from the Department of Environmental Management, the Environmental Protection Agency, NOAA, the National Park Service, The Nature Conservancy and elsewhere. Environmental issues are complex and no single institution can solve them alone, so the cooperative partnerships that URI and other institutions have developed are vitally important.”

The graduate students selected for fellowships will study in URI’s College of the Environment and Life Sciences and in the Graduate School of Oceanography. They will work with various agencies on solutions to issues related to such subjects as land use change, conservation of biodiversity, water quality, economic development, fisheries management, suburban sprawl and bay health. The agency partners will benefit from the research and analysis the students perform while the students get hands-on experience working on issues of immediate concern.

“This award is an acknowledgement by the national scientific community that URI has achieved the highest level of scholarship and sophistication in the fields of coastal environmental science and policy,” said Peter August, a professor of natural resources science and director of URI’s Coastal Institute, who will oversee the project along with Professors Judith Swift (communication studies), Arthur Gold (natural resources), Cheryl Foster (philosophy), James Opaluch (resource economics), Candace Oviatt (oceanography) and Richard Burroughs (marine affairs). “These fellowships will help us recruit a diverse group of the brightest and most dedicated coastal science and policy students from around the country.”

A key element of the program is its interdisciplinary approach to problem solving. At URI, fellowship recipients who are studying environmental policy will also gain a solid background in science, while environmental science students will learn how policy is made. Humanities professors who teach about ethics, communication, leadership and aesthetics will serve as mentors and liaisons between the scientists and the policymakers.

“URI is unique in the depth, breadth and diversity of natural and social scientists working together to develop solutions for coastal and watershed problems,” said Judith Swift, co-director of the program at URI. “The issues our students will be working on affect most of the local communities in the state, and the solutions they find can then be applied elsewhere as well. Perhaps most importantly, these students will be prepared to articulate and apply solutions in both the field and the meeting rooms,” Swift said.

The first seven fellowships have been awarded for students beginning their doctoral coursework this fall. They are Abigail Anthony, natural resource economics; Stephanie Koch, natural resources science; Jason Krumholz, biological oceanography; Erika Lentz, geological oceanography; Cathy McNally, natural resources science; Ronan Roche, marine affairs; and Karen Sullivan, natural resource economics.

The Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program is one of the most competitive programs funded by the National Science Foundation. It receives approximately 550 applications each year and funds just 15 to 20 of them. The program is intended to catalyze a cultural change in graduate education by establishing innovative models for training students in a fertile environment for collaborative research that transcends traditional disciplinary boundaries.

Pictured above 1. URI and state officials look on during announcement of grant in Wickford. 2. Peter August