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NEON Partners with the Science and Engineering Alliance

July 1, 2007


The Science and Engineering Alliance (SEA), a coalition of minority-serving institutions founded in 1990, has been funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to engage underrepresented faculty and students in the research initiatives of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON).

An initial NSF grant in September 2006 enabled SEA to host educational workshops about the scope and potential of NEON science for the minority community, and to identify faculty from the biological sciences interested in participating in observatory research. SEA is a nonprofit consortium that serves four state-supported, historically black colleges and universities: Alabama A&M University, Jackson State University, Southern University and A&M College, and Prairie View A&M University. SEA also counts two national laboratories among its members: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

“NEON is a long-term federal R&D initiative with enormous potential for involving minority-serving institutions,” said Robert Shepard, SEA executive director. “It’s a good fit with SEA’s mission: to ensure production of globally competitive American scientists and engineers that are prepared for the workforce.”

With the NEON–SEA partnership in place, a recent NSF supplement to the original SEA award will help new university faculty members and graduate researchers not familiar with NSF to assess solicitations and prepare competitive proposals. A one-and-a-half-day workshop that addresses funding opportunities within the NSF Directorate for Biological Sciences and strategies for submitting responses will be held in Atlanta, Georgia, in January 2008.

Another supplemental grant will fund (a) a research opportunity award, (b) research experiences for teachers and undergraduates, and (c) research assistantships for high school students.

The research opportunity award will expand the NEON research experience of Zhu Ning, a professsor in urban forestry at Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In the summer of 2007, Ning will work in the laboratory of Alan Covich, director of the Institute of Ecology at the University of Georgia in Athens, on a NEON-relevant research project looking at how coastal riparian forests respond to pulsed disturbances and increased spread of invasive riparian trees.

The research experience award will enable a teacher, an undergraduate student, and a high school student to research a topic under the direction of Teferi Tsegaye, of the Department of Plant and Soil Science at Alabama A&M University in Huntsville. The studies will focus on “bioassessment of benthic macroinvertebrates as in-stream water quality indicators.” A second similar group will engage in NEON-related research at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, under the direction of Larry Robertson and Elijah Johnson, professors in the Environmental Sciences Institute. The focus will be on “using computer programs to obtain the flow of phosphorus and other nutrients in a watershed.”

“The justification for this supplement is twofold,” said Shepard. “First, it will enable teachers and students from underserved areas with limited access to participate in NSF-supported research. Second, it will broaden the participation and discussion of NEON itself.”

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