October 1, 2013 -A federal agency is reaffirming its longstanding commitment to help strengthen science, technology, engineering and mathematics education at Fort Valley State University, and bring more minorities and women into STEM-related fields. Last month, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded FVSUfaculty members $398,208 in funding to create a Bioenergy Undergraduate Research and Instruction program. The multidisciplinary bioenergy curriculum will prepare undergraduates for future careers and graduate degrees related to the production of efficient and renewable bioenergy.
Bioenergy is a renewable, green energy derived from organic materials (commonly known as biomass). Biomass is plant material (such as crops, trees, straw or other organic material) that can be used as a source of energy because of its chemical composition. According to a 2006 National Academy of Sciences study, use of bioenergies – such as biofuels – can impact global warming by helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 41 percent.
"FVSU's new NSF funded Bioenergy Undergraduate Research and Instruction Program will provide extraordinary opportunities for students and professors to collaborate on innovative research projects within this expanding field," said Dr. Linda Noble, the university’s interim provost and vice president for Academic Affairs. "This program will also prepare our students to take advantage of the increasing number of employment openings within the bioenergy field.”
FVSU’s three-year project will address regional and global issues effecting the biofuel industry. The university is developing and revising courses to incorporate into the new curriculum. Classes will include policy development, biotechnology (the use of biological materials to make useful products), bioeconomy (an economy based on ecological sensitive products) and fuel conversion. The courses will provide students and faculty with opportunities to conduct cutting-edge research. Additionally, the new courses will allow STEM majors to pursue their own scholarship interests in renewable energy, by granting them a chance to design and implement innovative experiments in their academic fields.
The directors overseeing the campus’ new Biofuel Undergraduate Research Program will be Dr. Sarwan Dhir, professor of plant biotechnology, and Dr. Tiffani Holmes, an assistant professor of chemistry. Dhir served as principal investigator for the grant; and Holmes, as Co-PI.
According to Dhir, the program will strengthen FVSU research collaborations between STEM students, faculty, and major research institutions such as Iowa State University, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, Delaware State University, and the South Dakota State University.
“This grant is outstanding news,” Dhir said. “I’m particularly pleased that the proposed research project and other enhancements will complement FVSU’s new critical thinking curriculum. By increasing collaboration among undergraduates and faculty in College of Agriculture and biological sciences, the grant activities also will encourage interdisciplinary research and help strengthen the university’s overall research enterprise.”
More than 100 junior and senior students will participate in biofuel research and educational courses during the three-year grant period. Students will work with more than 10 faculty members to conduct research in topics like genetic and agricultural engineering, plant biotechnology, computational and medicinal chemistry and biofuel conversion.
According to Dhir, teams of STEM students will participate in a summer research program; then, continue their projects into the following academic year. Additionally, young people will attend a seminar, and present their work. Additionally, undergraduate researchers will prepare presentations for local and national symposia and conferences. Students can also apply for a second year of support to continue their research projects.
“The intense involvement with the research will enhance the students’ skills in problem solving, experimentation and communication,” the professor of plant technology said. “Students involved with these long-term projects will also benefit from the mentoring, which has been proven to be a successful mechanism for guiding students to graduate programs.”
Over the next year, an interdisciplinary team of FVSU faculty members will also work with high school seniors and educators in the region to design and implement the new curriculum.
Dhir said applications for FVSU’s 2014 undergraduate summer research program will be available next spring. Only junior and senior STEM students are encouraged to apply. For more information, contact at (478) 825-6887 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Holmes (478) 827-3999 or email@example.com.
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