EPSCoR program levels the playing field with vital start-up resources for researchers
By Peter Johnson
Look at the picture above. Dr. Gary Johnson, University of North Dakota assistant vice president for research, is happy, and he should be.
Johnson is co-project director of the North Dakota Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), which has played a key role in helping the University of North Dakota reach a record level of $94.3 million in sponsored program awards in FY06.
His program can’t take all of the credit for the fact UND faculty and staff submitted a record 974 proposals to external agencies in FY06 with a value of $255 million. Or that UND’s sponsored program base has doubled over the last five years, and has seen a 240 percent increase since FY99. Or that, overall, UND’s research portfolio, including ongoing and committed accounts, is $315 million as of June 30, 2006.
But North Dakota EPSCoR can take some of the credit.
For example, since 2003 EPSCoR has funded 37 new faculty through start-up grants; 36 are still on the faculty. The start-up grant program is crucial to recruiting many new faculty, who need the funds to jump-start their labs in their new location.
“We have the ability to attract and recruit high-level researchers,” said Johnson.
The same goes for students. Through the competitive Advanced Undergraduate Research Award (AURA), EPSCoR encourages undergraduate students to consider a career in science, engineering, or mathematics research. AURA provides undergraduate students with an opportunity to participate in faculty-mentored research projects.
Also aimed at students is Nurturing American Tribal Undergraduate Research and Education (NATURE), an outreach project aimed at improving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education among North Dakota tribal college and tribal high school students.
“The overall goal of ND EPSCoR is to increase the competitiveness of North Dakota for merit-based grants and contracts in support of science and technology research from federal funding agencies,” said Johnson.
Funded through federal-state partnerships intended to give states like North Dakota an opportunity to secure federal research dollars, North Dakota EPSCoR manages a comprehensive research development plan that involves infrastructure improvement programs, science outreach and recruitment programs, and technology transfer and commercialization programs.
North Dakota EPSCoR’s federal research partners include the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). North Dakota EPSCoR also coordinates the state’s EPSCoR activities with the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Agriculture.