University of North Dakota Faculty/Staff Newsletter

ND EPSCoR celebrates 25 years

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it,” wrote American advertising guru Allen Kay. Teaching, Learning, and Technology Group founder Steve W. Gilbert put it in more action-oriented terms: “Don’t predict the future, build it.”

These sentiments sum up the enduring legacy of the North Dakota Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (ND EPSCoR), a North Dakota University System program launched in 1986 to build an exemplary research infrastructure, develop human resources, and increase technology transfer from universities to the commercial sector.

North Dakota EPSCoR, celebrating its 25th anniversary, is part of a larger national effort that was launched 31 years ago.

Funded through federal-state partnerships intended to give states like North Dakota an opportunity to secure federal research dollars, ND EPSCoR manages a comprehensive research development plan that involves infrastructure improvement programs, science outreach and recruitment programs, and technology transfer and commercialization programs.

“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 Mark Hoffmann, University of North Dakota Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and co-principal investigator (with David Givers at North Dakota State University). “EPSCoR enhances collaboration for faculty and student researchers, in addition to supporting individual efforts.”

Significant support

For researchers such as UND’s Diane Darland, assistant professor of biology, that means a lot: “I received significant support from EPSCoR when I arrived as a new faculty member. A generous startup package that enabled me to start my research program fairly quickly.”

The national EPSCoR Program has made tremendous contributions to U.S. excellence in science and engineering by assisting more than 25 states and two territories in building a competitive research infrastructure.

“I have personally visited several university campuses that were the direct beneficiaries of EPSCoR funding, and can attest to the positive impact that the program has had on those institutions and the students, faculty, and the communities they serve,” said John H. Marburger, III, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology, in a recent statement about the national EPSCoR.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) established EPSCoR in 1979 in response to Congressional concerns about the geographic concentration in states such as California and Massachusetts of federal support for academic research and development (R&D). NSF EPSCoR and similar federal programs are designed to expand and enhance the research capability of scientists in states that traditionally have lacked strong university-based research efforts to compete more successfully for a portion of the federal academic research and development budget.

Expanded program

Congress began expanding EPSCoR beyond NSF in 1990. Today, EPSCoR is a family of competitive merit-based programs at seven federal research and development agencies: the National Science Foundation (NSF); the National Institutes of Health (NIH); the Departments of Defense (DoD), Energy (DoE), and Agriculture (USDA); the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

These programs represent federal-state partnerships to enhance the science and engineering research, education, and technology capabilities of states that receive smaller amounts of federal R&D funds. Through EPSCoR, participating states are building high-quality, university-based research efforts that serve as the backbone of their scientific and technological enterprises, capable of ensuring a strong and stable economic base far into the future.

North Dakota has invested a total of about $35 million in EPSCoR. The cash return has been $260 million in merit-based awards comprising close to $60 million in federal agency infrastructure grants made to ND EPSCoR and more than $201.7 million of peer-reviewed, merit-based grants to EPSCoR-supported principal investigators. That’s an eight-to-one return on investment.

ND EPSCoR has demonstrated a strong and steadfast commitment to science outreach and recruitment, and to technology transfer since its inception in 1986, Hoffmann noted.

Diversity commitment

A key component of ND EPSCoR’s commitment to increasing diversity in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is NATURE: Nurturing American Tribal Undergraduate Research and Education. A culturally relevant program that incorporates Native science, NATURE provides a STEM education pathway for American Indian high school and tribal college students.

This collaborative model engages North Dakota university professors with STEM teachers and faculty from reservation high schools and tribal colleges. Emphasizing hands-on learning, the program provides American Indian students with educational summer camps, Sunday Academies during the academic year, and mentored research experiences. About 140 American Indian students are enrolled in the STEM pathway program.

ND EPSCoR’s federal research partners include NASA, NSF, and NIH. ND EPSCoR also coordinates the state’s EPSCoR activities with DoD, DoE, and USDA.

-- Juan Pedraza, writer/editor, University Relations.

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