The RI NSF EPSCoR program: Evaluating the response of marine organisms and marine ecosystems to climate variability and building research capacity
Thirty one US states, territories, and commonwealths (referred to as jurisdictions) each receive less than 0.75% of total awarded NSF federal research dollars on an annual basis. The NSF-funded Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) Track-1 program has the potential to transform research competitiveness in these individual jurisdictions, via large-scale, five-year research infrastructure improvement grants. Rhode Island is one such jurisdiction; nine institutions of higher education collaborate via EPSCoR to develop statewide research and development strengths under the research theme of climate change impacts on marine life science. Our nine partner institutions include the University of Rhode Island, Brown University, Bryant University, Community College of Rhode Island, Providence College, Rhode Island College, Rhode Island School of Design, Roger Williams University, and Salve Regina University. Here, we evaluate the impacts of EPSCoR on enhancing RI's research infrastructure, competitiveness and economic development via a variety of metrics.
RI NSF EPSCoR provides a platform for exposing over five hundred K-12 students to opportunities in marine life science ecology and ecosystems each year. Of this, 33% are from underrepresented minority groups. Opportunities for undergraduates via a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program have exposed 40 students/year to research lab settings and has bridged students and faculty at all nine partner institutions. Over twenty-six new research collaborations involving scientists at at least two partner institutions each have been funded over the past five years, and 250 peer-reviewed publications have resulted from EPSCoR-sponsored research. Networking and professional development events, such as the EPSCoR Day of Science (hosted by RISD), resulted in at least half of attendees made a new research connection (based on follow-up survey assessment). Five core EPSCoR-funded facilities at three institutions (Marine Life Science Facility - URI, Genomics Sequencing Center - URI, Center for Computation and Visualization - Brown, Proteomics Center - Brown, Nature Lab - RISD) have shown consistent increases in user numbers across our partner institutions. In years 1-4, 89 new grants have been awarded to EPSCoR researchers, for a total of $32.2 million in new research funding. Through the EPSCoR and complementary IDEA (NIH-funded) programs, research infrastructure improvements in throughout the state of Rhode Island has greatly enhanced research competitiveness and the potential for economic development.