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Focus on the Gulf Event Tackles Big Challenges in the Gulf Region

Story by
Trisha Radulovich
gulf scholars
2022 Gulf Scholars pictured left to right: Ashley Saddler (FAMU), Vivian Bernard (FSU), Lailah Hall (FAMU), Allie Scheel (FSU), Gabriela Zurheide (FSU), Kennedy Hayden (FAMU), Kayla Rossin-Hines (FAMU), Heidi Zhu (FSU), Destiny Anderson (FAMU), Grace Lin (FSU), and Damian Simmons. Not pictured Jalon Bristol (FAMU). (C Hackley/FAMU-FSU Engineering)

The Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) and Florida State University (FSU) Gulf Scholars Programs held their inaugural collaborative event, Focus on the Gulf, on April 7th. The reception and visioning session brought together diverse and interdisciplinary collaborators from the universities to tackle challenges in the Gulf of Mexico region of the Southeast.

“Truly innovative solutions emerge from dedicated individuals who work together to solve a problem collectively that is bigger than the one they could solve on their own,” Kassie Ernst, Ph.D., the FSU Director of the Gulf Scholars Program, said. “We aim to create a shared space to come together and connect about the biggest challenges in the region.” 

The two Gulf Scholars Programs are closely associated and intricately aligned. Ernst, a teaching faculty member at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, co-directs the program with Byron Greene from FAMU. 

At the event, students, faculty, staff, university leaders and community members participated in a strategic visioning session focused on ten themes relevant to the Gulf of Mexico region. 

FAMU’s President Larry Robinson gave a keynote address for the event, during which he recalled his background as a research scientist and familiarity with the Gulf region. Florida Senator Lorrane Ausley, FAMU-FSU Engineering Interim Dean Farrukh Alvi, and many other community leaders were on hand to exchange ideas with students. Over one hundred people were in attendance.

Rahni Wright, the Community Engagement Projects Coordinator for the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, explained one of the projects serving the Tallahassee area.

“There are ten topics that were discussed at the event including a local one involving the Providence neighborhood adjacent to the college,” Wright said. “The idea is to give digital access for the neighborhood while maintaining the energy and social interaction of the community. Many people socialize from their front porch and we want to preserve that vitality while providing digital access.”

The “founding” twelve undergraduate scholars were introduced at the event, and five professors from FAMU and FSU were also honored. The faculty received grants for curriculum development to create new interdisciplinary and experiential learning opportunities focused on the Gulf region. 

Vivian Bernard, a biomedical engineering student at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering and one of the 2022 Gulf Scholars, said, “The highlight of this event for me was the time we spent brainstorming the different issues of the Gulf that we plan to focus on. The conversation was engaging and listening, proposing and dissecting all the issues was a great honor for me.”

Bernard is interested in improving beach mobility and creating interdisciplinary and interactive learning opportunities. Living most of her life in Florida, she is excited to give back to her community.

“It is very inspiring to be a Gulf Scholar and this was the first time I had the chance to meet other scholars,” Bernard said. “I didn’t know what to expect but it was fun getting to see all the different individuals in the community who are going to be working with us to improve the community.”

Created in 2021, the FAMU-FSU Gulf Scholars Program is supported by a grant from the National Academy of Sciences Gulf Research Program. Students learn about relevant regional issues affecting Gulf Coast communities and how they can leverage their research interests to address the area’s long-standing social, economic, environmental and justice-related challenges.

Themes discussed during the visioning included beach mobility and accessibility, quality of life and connectivity, historical and contemporary justice issues and their legacies, critical infrastructure challenges, and interdisciplinary approaches to regional challenges.

“Focus on the Gulf gets at exactly what the Gulf Scholars Program intends to do,” Ernst said. “The challenges of this region are complex and multi-faceted and require that we collectively come together and discuss them respectfully as equals with accessible language.”

2022 Curriculum Development Faculty Awardees:

Kendra Mitchell, Assistant Professor, Department of English & Modern Languages, FAMU 
Alisha Gaines, Timothy Gannon Associate Professor of Arts and Sciences, Department of English, FSU 
Natalie King-Pedroso, Associate Professor, Department of English & Modern Languages, FAMU
Mariana Fuentes, Associate Professor Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science, FSU
Andrew Frank, Allen Morris Professor of History, FSU

Visit the Gulf Scholars website for more information

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