EPSCoR: Expanding Job Growth and Opportunity in Science
May06

EPSCoR: Expanding Job Growth and Opportunity in Science

    The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) provides science resources to its jurisdictions, which constitute 28 states, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam and the US Virgin Islands. A recent Capitol Hill briefing spotlighted the program’s work to expand science research and education across US states and territories that have traditionally been underfunded. Speakers noted how the program fosters career development and high-paying job opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. The briefing was moderated by Paul Hill, Chancellor of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission. NSF Deputy Director Cora Marrett also gave introductory remarks at the briefing. James Rice, Project Director for South Dakota EPSCoR, highlighted the important role businesses in his state play in providing career opportunities for STEM undergraduate students. In partnership with the South Dakota Department of Economic Development, South Dakota EPSCoR established the Dakota SEEDS program to connect STEM undergraduate students with career opportunities at 200 participating South Dakota companies. The program has provided a total of 231 interns (32 percent of participants) full time positions at the companies where they had interned. EPSCoR states and commonwealths are also important for expanding STEM research and education for racial minorities. NSF reports that the populations of EPSCoR jurisdictions consist of 24 percent of the nation’s African-Americans  in areas that are home to 50 percent of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The EPSCoR jurisdiction’s populations also compose 49 percent of the nation’s Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders; 40 percent of the nation’s American Indians and Alaskan Natives; 16 percent of the nation’s Hispanics. EPSCoR jurisdictions include 16 percent of the nation’s Hispanics Serving Institutions and 68 percent of the Tribal Colleges and Universities. The Virgin Islands EPSCoR Project Director Henry Smith noted how the EPSCoR program had partially funded research into invasive lionfish, including research into improving methods for its harvesting for the fishing industry. He also noted how EPSCoR funding has contributed to the understanding of coral reef resiliency. Rising sea temperatures, ocean acidification, ineffective management and other factors are affecting the decline of reefs, which are an important part of the local economy. Smith compared the loss of coral reefs with the tourism financial loss that would occur if Washington, DC saw its cherry blossoms dwindle. Additional information on EPSCoR is available...

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National Science Board report highlights need for continued science investment
Feb12

National Science Board report highlights need for continued science investment

Southeast Asia’s R&D performance shoots up through the aughts, eclipsing US A Feb. 11 Capitol Hill briefing orchestrated by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) National Science Board (NSB) showcased the board’s latest biannual Science and Engineering Indicators report, which outlines the current state of science investment domestically in the United States as well as internationally among other countries. The briefing was held in a hearing from of the Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Committee (Russell 253). The 25 member board sets policy for the NSF and advises the President and Congress on science and engineering. Biannual indictors reports fulfill a statutory mandate to report to Congress and executive agencies on the status of science and engineering, including R&D trends and the demographics of the S&E workforce. Entitled “What the latest Federal data tell us about the US Science and Technology Enterprise,” the briefing spotlighted a number of statistics from the report of interest to policymakers. The report highlighted a shift in the global science landscape with countries such as China and South Korea rapidly eclipsing the United States in their share of worldwide research and development (R&D) investment. Collectively, the information compiled the support helps showcase both the importance science investment plays in economic development and the importance of this investment in maintaining America’s global competitiveness in innovation. Since 2001, the share of the world’s R&D performed by the United States has decreased from 37 percent to 30 percent in 2011. Meanwhile, Asian countries’ share of global R&D has risen from 25 to 34 percent over the same period. China’s share alone spiked from four percent to 15 percent over that decade. The Great Recession (2008-2009) caused declines in R&D expenditures attributable to business R&D, which contributes the largest share of US R&D spending. The NSB report notes that the decrease was partially offset by a one-time bump in federal funding for scientific research included in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (P.L. 111-5). According to the report, the US has rebounded better than other developed countries in overall R&D funding. The report also found that science and technology degree holders “weathered” the recession better than other sectors of the US workforce. It also stated that workers in S&E occupations have almost always had lower unemployment than workers in other jobs. In 2011, the federal government was the primary financial support source for 19 percent of full-time S&E graduate students. Graduate students in the biological sciences, physical sciences and engineering received relatively more federal support than those in computer, math, health, or social sciences. The report also found that tuition and fees for colleges and universities have grown...

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The role of science investment in community and professional development
Aug19

The role of science investment in community and professional development

Amid all the partisan turmoil in Congress, it seems Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate have actually reached a consensus on one issue – that the administration’s proposal to consolidate Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education programs needs to go back to the drawing board. The proposal, first introduced in the president’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget request, would reduce programs across all federal agencies from 226 to 112 and house them under the National Science Foundation (NSF) (undergraduate and graduate), the Department of Education (K-12) and the Smithsonian Institution (informal education programs). Agencies that have traditionally sponsored STEM programs and fellowships such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration would see their initiatives consolidated under the aforementioned agencies. Key leaders in both the House and Senate concur that the administration has not sufficiently clarified its rationale for eliminating certain programs nor has it sufficiently collaborated or sought input from the science and education communities. This sentiment was most recently expressed by the Senate Commerce Justice and Science Subcommittee in its report that accompanied the subcommittee’s Fiscal Year 2014 appropriations bill: “While the Committee maintains its support of greater efficiencies and consolidation – as evident by adopting some of the STEM consolidation recommendations made by the administration’s budget request – the Committee has concerns that the proposal as a whole has not been thoroughly vetted with the education community or congressional authorizing committees, and lacks thorough guidance and input from Federal agencies affected by this proposal, from both those that stand to lose education and outreach programs and from those that stand to gain them.” The report notes that the administration’s STEM strategic plan was released in May, a month after the budget request and that the reorganization proposal, as laid out in the budget request, does not fully clarify how it will meet the goals mandated by the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-358). Consequently, the committee report language effectively defers implementation of the consolidation proposal “until such time that OSTP, in working with these and other Federal science agencies, finalizes the STEM program assessments as required by America COMPETES.” The House Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee report also disparages the Administration’s proposal: “The ideas presented in the budget request lack any substantive implementation plan and have little support within the STEM education community. In addition, the request conflicts with several findings and activities of the National Science and Technology Council Committee on STEM Education, most notably on the question of whether agency mission-specific fellowship and scholarship programs are a viable target...

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Federal research investment and its benefits for society
Jul19

Federal research investment and its benefits for society

In seeking to improve fiscal restraint through a federal budget that has burgeoned over the past decade (largely due to expansion of mandatory spending coupled with decreased revenue intake), lawmakers have been eyeing numerous areas of discretionary spending, including scientific research due to the fact that cutting spending in these areas is more politically feasible than addressing the growth of entitlement programs or revenue-raising tax reform. When reviewing scientific research investments, some lawmakers have set their sights on research with no immediately apparent applied benefit as well as on research they perceive as politically-motivated. Regarding the latter, much criticism among House Republicans has been leveled at government efforts to fund research on environmental issues like climate change or hydraulic fracturing, partially out of concern that these efforts are  at the expense of industry and economic development. During a recent meeting of the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coaltion with a Member of Congress in a district where hydraulic fracturing (also called “fracking”) is practiced, the Congressman asked the scientists with whom he was meeting why additional research is necessary given that existing information suggests that the practice is safe. In the most recent edition of The Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, Carlos Silva discusses his response to this question. Carlos suggested continued research into fracking could benefit the industry in the long-term by uncovering new methods that ultimately improve efficiency or validate the safety of the practice and expand acceptance of its commercial use. Carlos noted that it was National Science Foundation research in geology that contributed to the technology. In the podcast, he also discussed past meetings he’s had with the Maryland delegation and the bipartisan support for research to understand algal blooms and to remedy water quality issues in the Chesapeake Bay, which provides a multitude of local commercial and economic benefits to surrounding communities in the region. While researchers seem to agree that the process of hydraulic fracturing itself does not cause earthquakes, evidence suggests a connection to the wastewater disposal process In addition, communities are concerned about possible contamination of their drinking water.  Research on this evolving energy extraction process can lead to better strategies and show if some concerns are unwarranted. Scientific research improves our knowledge with regard to how to better cope with changes to the environment in a more cost-effective way. One of the central themes of this year’s Climate Leadership Conference outlined how coping with the various aspects of climate change can save businesses billions of dollars in insurance through investing in extreme weather-resistant infrastructure and energy-saving initiatives. In another example, research into understanding how floodplains work, provides us with knowledge on how...

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UNEP stakeholders’ conference prioritizes sustainability issues

This post contributed by Terence Houston, Science Policy Analyst  Last week’s  United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) North American Major Groups and Stakeholders Consultation in Washington, DC focused on how to implement sustainable development goals (SDGs) outlined during the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil this past June.  It was noted during the meeting that – in the time since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio 20 years ago – countries, NGOs and private corporations now recognize that the environment is critical to sustainable development. The meeting’s keynote speaker, Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs, spoke on the connection between climate change and economic development. He discussed how record droughts have adversely affected the quality and quantity of crop yields. Sachs also talked about the pressures on natural resources and promoted the need for better public health access including empowering women to make family planning choices.  Sachs stated that gender equality is a vital part of the solution to mitigating poverty and fostering environmental sustainability. He also said that the private sector has a big role to play in producing new energy technology that will be part of achieving “sustainable cities.” The need to link environmental stewardship to economic development was among the major themes discussed during the UNEP meeting. This includes acknowledging that we have a finite quantity of natural resources and should work on practices that help to sustain these resources for the long-term. Water, oil, coal, natural gas, phosphorous and rare earth elements have all been cited as vital resources that the world’s burgeoning population will have significantly reduced within the next 50-200 years.  Global oil and natural gas reserves would be depleted closer to the half century mark, according to information from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy. In fact, UNEP, the Environmental Law Institute, the University of Tokyo, and McGill University last month released a book  that looks at how improving management of our dwindling natural resources may prove critical in deterring armed conflicts over these resources. In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency has a website, which outlines measures to help Americans manage resources more efficiently and reduce the amount of waste we produce. The US Department of Agriculture’s National Resource Conservation Service works with farmers, landowners and nonprofits on techniques to help to make the most of their land and soil and to indentify natural resource concerns in accordance with improving management of the environment. This includes helping farmers and ranchers manage agriculture in times of extreme weather conditions, including hurricanes, droughts or flooding. From a fiscal perspective, continued investment in these...

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Romania’s traditional approach to agriculture is linked to wildlife abundance

This post contributed by Molly Taylor, ESA Science Writing Intern. Something is afoot in Romania’s province of Transylvania, and it has nothing to do with Twilight. In a paper published recently in Biological Conservation, researchers from Romania, Germany and the Netherlands spent nine years studying populations of various species of newts, frogs and toads in 54 ponds in the Saxon area of Southern Transylvania. Despite the conventional notion that human settlements and agricultural land use practices are associated with negative effects on amphibians and other wildlife, the scientists found that Romania’s traditional land use practices were “largely negligible” when it came to their impact on wildlife populations. In addition, “natural” landscapes investigated in the study, such as forests and wetlands, scored only marginally higher than the traditionally managed agricultural areas when it came to amphibian species richness.  However, Romania’s recent membership to the European Union will likely move Romania away from its traditional agricultural practices.  As a result, the authors urged Central and Eastern European countries that have recently joined the EU to avoid repeating the mistakes of the West; that is, they recommend leaving room for wildlife in their development plans. Farmers in the traditionally managed areas do not use chemicals or intensive machinery, practices that seem negatively  impact amphibian population health. This could be good news for conservation plans, as well as the 10 amphibian species in the surveyed ponds—including the Great Crested Newt and the Yellow Bellied Toad, both of which are protected in the EU—as it indicates that wildlife refuges are likely unnecessary within the current land use plan. However, one factor that seemed to have a large impact on the health of amphibian populations was the proximity of roads—especially those with a high volume of traffic—to the ponds that serve as an important component of the amphibians’ habitat. “Roads have a direct negative effect on many species of amphibians, which can get run over by cars,” explained Tibor Hartel from Babeş-Bolyai University in Romania in a press release. “But roads also have an indirect impact, for example by the destruction and isolation of the critical habitats for amphibians such as breeding, summering and overwintering habitats.” This is where the good news ends—at least for the amphibians and conservation biologists. On January 1, 2007, Romania became a member of the EU, a membership that, with its economic development, brings infrastructure expansion and more intensive land use. While some of Romania’s citizens likely consider the nation’s newfound status as an upper-middle-income country to be a positive step, to others, this development could potentially create a landscape that is a far cry from the traditional land use...

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Weighing potential costs of hydraulic fracturing

The recent expansion of hydraulic fracturing across the nation has set off a debate among oil and gas industry officials and conservationists and environmental scientists. During a recent House Space, Science and Technology Committee hearing, Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD) outlined the points of contention: “You have one group that’s got long experience with hydraulic fracturing [contending] it’s very safe” and “you have another group that’s new to it and is having to analyze the potential of risks associated with it.” Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking” involves using high-pressure injections of water, chemicals and sand to open cracks that release gas trapped in rock deep underground. Advances in fracturing technology have led to a dramatic surge in gas extraction nationwide. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that the United States has 2,119 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas, about 60 percent of which is “unconventional gas” stored in low permeability formations such as shale, coalbeds, and tight sands. In 2010, production of this “shale gas” doubled to 137.8 billion cubic meters, up from 63 billion cubic meters in 2009. A Pennsylvania State University study stated that deployment in 2008 of hydraulic fracturing technology in the Marcellus Shale region generated more than $240 million in state and local taxes for Pennsylvania, 29,000 jobs and $2.3 billion in total economic development. The oil and gas industry falls into the camp of those who contend that decades of practice show that hydraulic fracturing is important economically and poses no discernable threat to public health or the environment. In the other camp are conservationists and some researchers who say that fracking could pose a risk to drinking water supplies. During the recent congressional hearing, the committee’s majority Republican members repeatedly asserted that the Environmental Protection Agency’s $12 million study on the safety of hydraulic fracturing is wasting taxpayer dollars. “The study intends to identify the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water without ever taking into consideration the probability that such an effect may occur,” said Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX). A key part of understanding different views of the potential risks of “fracking” is how it is defined. Many in the oil and gas industry use the term to describe not the drilling process but, more specifically, the completion phase where chemical-laced water and sand are blasted underground to break apart rock and release gas. Companies assert it is a safe practice since so far there has been no indication of hydraulic fracturing fluid rising above the mile or so of rock layers to reach drinking water aquifers. Others outside the industry typically view fracturing and drilling as interconnected. Consequently,...

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Nutrient enrichment linked to diseases in humans and wildlife

Scientists have provided a rather grim prognosis for global health: the recent increase in nutrient enrichment due to human activities, such as nitrogen pollution through fossil fuel combustion, is likely contributing to several varieties of infectious diseases in humans and wildlife.

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