The University of Alabama Press Release

UA RECEIVES NSF "IGERT" GRANT

greendot.gif (326 bytes) Information on how to apply for the IGERT Ph.D. fellowship

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The University of Alabama has been named as one of only 21 colleges and universities across the country to receive a highly coveted IGERT grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

UA will receive almost $2.7 million over five years for an innovative, multi-faceted graduate program in freshwater studies aimed at providing doctoral students with a wide range of educational and professional experiences. UAís IGERT proposal was spearheaded by Dr. Amelia Ward, professor of biology and director of UA's Center for Freshwater Studies (CFS) within the College of Arts and Sciences. IGERT is an acronym for NSF's Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training grant program.

"Enhancing the quality of graduate programs and providing excellent research opportunities for faculty and graduate students are among our top priorities at The University of Alabama. This very significant funding from the National Science Foundation will enable our students and faculty to participate in multidisciplinary, collaborative research and build partnerships with colleagues in the field of freshwater studies," said UA President Andrew Sorensen.

CFS faculty will collaborate on this project with faculty with similar research interests at the University of New Mexico. Some 36-40 graduate students are expected to participate over the five-year program, with the first class scheduled to begin in the fall of 2000.

UA's project was chosen from more than 400 projects submitted to NSF from colleges and universities across the country. Other grant recipients include such prestigious institutions as Princeton, Carnegie Mellon, the University of Michigan, Brandeis and Johns Hopkins.

Now in their second year, NSF's IGERT grants are intended to produce scientists and engineers who are well prepared for a broad spectrum of emerging career opportunities in industry, government and academe. According to NSF, graduate students supported under these grants will be exposed to multidisciplinary graduate programs, which are developed by the awardee institutions, in emerging areas of science and engineering -- areas that percolate through traditional boundaries and unite faculty from several departments and/or institutions. Supported projects are based upon a multidisciplinary research theme and are organized around a diverse group of investigators from U.S. doctorate-granting institutions.

Ward, lead investigator for UA's program, said the University will participate jointly with the Hydrogeoecology Group, headed by Dr. Cliff Dahm from the University of New Mexico, in the development of an inter-regional graduate research and education program that will provide opportunities for students to study attributes of aquatic ecosystems in separate geographical regions that are at similar latitudes, but have very different climates.

"About 10 faculty members from each institution will participate in this program, which focuses on several core themes. One of these themes is to provide interdisciplinary education and training experiences for students in areas of aquatic ecology, environmental geology and hydrology," said Ward. "This theme is important because the maintenance of readily available, high quality freshwater for sustaining life and thriving economies is emerging as one of the most critical global problems of the 21st century. These problems are so complex that they require the expertise of multiple disciplines to solve."

In addition to Ward, UA faculty participating in the program include Dr. Arthur Benke, biological sciences; Dr. Laura Gough, biological sciences; Dr. Luoheng Han, geography; Dr. Berry Lyons, geology; Dr. Richard Mayden, biological sciences; Dr. Eric Roden, biological sciences; Dr. Milton Ward, biological sciences; Dr. Robert Wetzel, biological sciences, and Dr. Chunmiao Zheng, geology.

Ward further explained that the program is unusual in that students will have the chance to study freshwater ecosystems in areas of different climate. Here in central Alabama, the climate is humid with abundant annual rainfall, whereas in New Mexico, the environment is much drier. Students will be able to compare and contrast research results in two completely different environments.

"This is a crucial component of our program because the field of freshwater studies continues to face issues of broader and broader scope. Freshwater scientists are increasingly being asked to interpret and integrate information from diverse geographic and climatic settings. We want to expand student horizons at multiple levels to prepare them for problem-solving from local to global perspectives, and this requires a new framework for graduate education that our inter-institutional project will provide," Ward said.

Students and faculty from the two institutions will meet on a regular basis, exchange ideas, and participate in cross-institutional collaborations. Students will be able to take advantage of the traditional graduate program in their home institution, but also build new bridges in research through the UA and UNM partnership. They will have access to two sets of faculty expertise, an expanded array of technological facilities, and field research experiences in two major river basins in the southern United States -- the Mobile River and the Rio Grande. Ward explained that these two river systems offer outstanding potential for exciting graduate research.

"Both river systems have extraordinary geological and biological diversity, which sets them apart from other rivers in North America," said Ward. "However, as with most rivers across the country, they are also heavily influenced by human activities. One of our goals is for students to use these rivers as model systems for basic research that has application to real-world problem solving. To do this, students will spend part of their graduate program in ëexternshipsí with state and/or federal agencies where they will learn first-hand about restoration and management of freshwater ecosystems. During this part of their program, they will also inform the public and other stakeholders about their work and its significance to economic and other interests in the state."

Some other components of the program will include four newly-designed core courses that will be distributed to both universities by distance learning technology, a special seminar series, and annual workshops where all students and faculty will meet to discuss results of their research, participate in techniques courses, visit research sites, and hear invited speakers in specialty areas.

Ward says that the team-building aspect of this project is especially important and will prepare students for future academic and professional experiences. "Weíre finding that team interaction is quickly taking center stage in research projects across many areas of scientific activity, whether it is in academics, government or industry. This program will certainly provide the students with team-building and communication skills that will give them a wider array of career options once they finish their degrees," Ward said. "The perspectives gained through this interaction with a diverse group of students and faculty members will help ensure that all participating students will be prepared for the multifaceted workplace and diverse faces of leadership that will occur in the 21st century."

Speaking recently to the IGERT grantees about their projects, NSF Director Rita Colwell said "These areas clearly have great future potential, as will a new generation of broadly trained researchers who can work effectively across disciplines. The interdisciplinary programs, and student internships in industry, government and abroad provide new opportunities for students, faculty and institutions. By building on the strengths of different departments and institutions, we are making graduate education more useful to students and more responsive to national needs."

UA's Center for Freshwater Studies (CFS) is an inter-collegiate program comprised of members from the College of Arts & Sciences, including the departments of biological sciences, geography and geology; the department of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering; the School of Law; and the College of Commerce and Business Administration.

The Center is dedicated to understanding and preserving water, the environment in and around it, and the plants and animals, including humans, that depend on it. For more information on the Center, see its Web site at http://www.as.ua.edu/cfs.