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FSU, FAMU researchers receive National Academy of Sciences grant to form new Gulf Scholars Program

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Amy Robinson
gulf scholars program director engineering professor kassie ernst
Kassie Ernst, teaching faculty at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering and program director for the Gulf Scholars Program.  (Photo: M Wallheiser/FAMU-FSU Engineering)

A group of researchers from Florida State University and Florida A&M University has received a $1 million grant from the National Academy of Sciences to form a new program to support students at both institutions who are interested in tackling challenges facing the Gulf of Mexico region.

The grant facilitates the launch of the FAMU-FSU Gulf Scholars Program, which will provide unique learning and research opportunities for undergraduates at both universities to become future leaders who will build more equitable, sustainable, and resilient Gulf Coast communities. Students in the program will learn about relevant regional issues affecting Gulf Coast communities and how they can leverage their research interests to address the area’s longstanding social, economic, environmental, and justice-related challenges.

Program applications open Oct. 1, 2021, and students from any major at either university may apply online. The first cohort of approximately a dozen Gulf Scholars will be selected for Spring 2022.

Kassie Ernst, teaching faculty at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering and faculty director of Engineering LLC at FSU, will serve as program director.

“This grant allows me and many others to continue the work of building a more future-ready and socially just Gulf Coast region. It enables these efforts to scale-up beyond a single case or research project and focuses on building strong leaders aimed at enacting change in the Gulf,” Ernst said. “It is a huge help for our efforts to further engage and support Gulf communities in their efforts to build back stronger from economic and environmental crises and meet the future better prepared than they were yesterday.”

Faculty members from the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, the FAMU College of Science and Technology, the FAMU-FSU Resilient Infrastructure and Disaster Response Center, as well as FSU’s Office of Research and DevelopmentDepartment of AnthropologyCenter for the Advancement of TeachingCenter for Leadership and Social Change, and the FSU-headquartered National High Magnetic Field Laboratory round out the Gulf Scholars Program’s leadership team.

jayur mehta
FSU assistant professor of anthropology Jayur Mehta.

Jayur Mehta, assistant professor of anthropology in the FSU College of Arts and Sciences who specializes in the study of Native Americans and applied environmental archaeology, is the curriculum development faculty lead for the program. He will assist FAMU and FSU faculty in developing proposals for improving their courses, or developing new courses, that support the program’s overall mission.

“This program really helps develop exciting learning, teaching, and research opportunities for students. Young people will be the ones to fix the environmental and societal problems created by previous generations, and this program will help give them the tools and confidence necessary to build a better world, and in this case, a better Gulf of Mexico,” Mehta said. “Furthermore, this program supports faculty and Gulf Scholars through workshops, trainings, and curriculum development funding, all of which immediately go back to supporting new experiences for students.”

Byron Greene, director of the Gulf Scholars Program at FAMU, said the collaboration presents an extraordinary opportunity for students to connect with the communities in which they live and work.

“The partnership itself is a demonstration of collaborative efforts between two unique institutions that have strong faculty, student and research capabilities. To bring that together for good cause, one that impacts not just our own individual institutions, but a whole community, a whole area, I think it’s a wonderful thing,” Greene said.

The Gulf Scholars Program will work with FSU’s Center for Leadership and Social Change in support of local and state agencies, with potential partnerships including the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Florida State Park Service, and various nonprofit organizations.

Throughout the course of the program, community engagement lead Maria-Paula McIntyre and her team will be available for one-on-one advising for students. McIntyre currently serves as program coordinator for EngageTLH and the Community Ambassador Program at the FSU Center for Leadership and Social Change, where she works with local schools, community agencies and non-profit organizations.

“I am incredibly excited to support students in research that is driven by a desire to collaborate on a promising future for everyone,” McIntyre said.

FAMU will work with research faculty through its College of Science and Technology and School of the Environment to develop student learning experiences, and will utilize a network of institutional and community partners — including NASA, the National Science Foundation’s Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation in STEM, and the FSU Coastal and Marine Laboratory, among others — to create and organize a unique set of field experiences for Gulf Scholars.

Leaders of the Gulf Scholars Program also plan to launch “Focus on the Gulf,” an annual gathering of Gulf Coast researchers and stakeholders, during the Spring 2022 semester. Ernst said the event will serve as an interdisciplinary research showcase and networking event for students in the program, faculty members, researchers, community stakeholders, industry partners, and relevant policymakers. The first Gulf Scholars cohort will be officially announced at the inaugural FOG event, slated for April 7, 2022.

The Gulf Scholars Program is led by the Gulf Research Program, an initiative of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine formed in 2013 in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the largest accidental oil spill in history. Utilizing a $500 million criminal settlement from the companies involved in Deepwater Horizon, the Gulf Research Program works to advance and apply science, engineering, and public health knowledge to reduce risks from offshore oil spills and enable Gulf communities to better anticipate, mitigate, and recover from future disasters.

Ernst, who served as a Gulf Research Program Science-Policy Fellow before joining the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering in 2019, said problem-solvers are crucial to the future success of the Gulf region — an area already navigating hurricanes and emergency evacuations, historic rain events, and shifting agricultural industries.

“Add all of these things on top of a pandemic and the deep contextual human challenges within the region, and you have a place and time that is ripe for an influx of new leaders with hope, ideas, and passion for making the most of the situation we’re in,” Ernst said. “We are building future-ready agents of change with this grant and the students are so ready for it.”

Visit the Gulf Scholars Program page

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