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NSF director pledges federal support

Submitted by George Happ
Phone: (907) 474-5492

08/18/04

National Science Foundation Acting Director Arden Bement (be-MENT) during a news conference at the University of Alaska Fairbanks today announced a $9 million continuation award for Alaska EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research). EPSCoR is a university-state partnership which fosters Alaska-based research. Under the program, the state of Alaska will contribute $4.5 million, bringing the total EPSCoR award to $13.5 million.

This is the second time this week that UAF Chancellor Steve Jones has hosted a director of one of the nation's leading science agencies. On Monday, Jones accepted a $19.2 million award from the National Institutes of Health to accelerate and strengthen biomedical research activities in Alaska.

Jones accepted today's award on behalf of the university system, noting that UAF is one of the top 100 NSF-funded institutions in the country.

"Today's award demonstrates the continued commitment by NSF to the university to support our merit-based science and technology programs. Working collaboratively with UAA researchers and scientists, we are improving the state's research and development capacity, capability and competitiveness," Jones said.

In 2001 NSF funded phase I of the Alaska EPSCoR program with a three-year, $9 million award and a $4.5 million matching grant from the state of Alaska. According to Bement, today's award is continuation funding and marks phase II of the Alaska EPSCoR grant, also a three-year, $9 million award with a $4.5 million in-state match.

"We have demonstrated our ability to significantly ramp up the state's research infrastructure with these grants," said George Happ, Alaska EPSCoR director. "We've hired 14 new research faculty at UAF and UAA in targeted research areas, and they are building critical mass in specific research focus areas in biology and arctic engineering."

In addition to faculty hires and infrastructure development, Alaska EPSCoR has allowed the university to significantly increase support for undergraduate research. The contributions of research faculty to graduate and undergraduate education is one of the distinguishing aspects of the University of Alaska.

"The opportunities to work with world-class faculty in unique environments are available nowhere else in the world," said Happ. "Many of our students have opportunities to get published due to their access to and work with top researchers."

Happ also said that students receive education and training for future research and workforce needs. To date, Alaska EPSCoR has funded 64 graduate fellowships at UAF and UAA. Education outreach programs have exposed rural Alaska high school students to UAF research projects in genetics and environmental contaminants, encouraging high school students to pursue higher education with a focus on science.

The importance of linking research activities and academics pays dividends all around, according to Jones. "Not only is the linkage vital to providing education and training for the next generation of scientists and engineers. it has allowed the university to maximize the state's investment by attracting additional research dollars" Jones said. "In fact, Alaska EPSCoR-related faculty members have secured more than $40 million in new research grants."

On Thursday, Aug. 19, NSF Director Bement will join UAF researchers and Chancellor Jones on a day trip to Toolik Field Station, America's only long term ecological research station in the Arctic, located at Toolik Lake, 377 miles north of Fairbanks in the foothills of the Brooks Range. Operated by UAF's Institute of Arctic Biology, each summer Toolik hosts an international array of scientists and students studying the Arctic's unique ecology and its impact on the global community.

CONTACT: George Happ at (907) 474-5492 or george.happ@alaska.edu; or Debra Damron, UAF University Relations, at (907) 474-7122 or debra.damron@uaf.edu.