University receives $5.8m for EPSCoR research

Delaware EPSCoR leadership: (L-r) Martha Hofstetter, DTCC Institutional Lead; Justina Sapna, DTCC VP for Academic Affairs; Venu Kalavacharla, DSU Institutional Lead and Co-PI; Gov. John Carney; Kent Messer, Project Director, and PI; Malcolm D’Souza, Wesley Institutional Lead, and Co-PI; Holly Michael, Research Lead and Co-PI; Donald Sparks, Delaware EPSCoR Director, and Co-PI.

Delaware State University joined Gov. John Carney and other state institutions of higher education on Jan. 11 on campus to celebrate the infusion of $19.3 million in research funding for the First State.

The event – held on campus in the MLK Jr. Student Center – was also attended by University President Wilma Mishoe, Provost Tony Allen, U.S. Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons.

The five-year grant is the fourth installment of funding from the National Science Foundation’s EPSCoR (Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research), which provides significant research dollars to Delaware State University, the University of Delaware, Delaware Technical and Community College, and Wesley College.

In addition to the $19.3 million from the NSF, the State of Delaware is matching it with an additional $3.8 million, which bring the five-year funding total to just over $23 million.

Out of that NSF grant, Delaware State University’s College of Agriculture Science and Technology is receiving approximately $5.8 million for its part in the overall research work, which is under the title “Water in the Changing Coastal Environment of Delaware.”

In its research the University’s scientists will strive to better understand how oyster serve as an excellent coastal filter. They will also study marsh grasses and their capacity to survive in high salinity and absorb excess nutrients that run off into water bodies from agriculture and other land uses.

“Water research is important, because water is life,” Dr. Mishoe said. “It is something that affects not only us, but future generations.”

Dr. Gulnihal Ozbay, professor of aquatic sciences, is leading a research team that seeks to understand ecological stresses from nutrients and salinization which deals with oysters, marsh grasses, and tidal forests. Dr. Venugopal Kalavacharla, professor of agriculture and natural resources and the principal investigator of the University’s portion of the grant, along with Wesley College’s Dr. Stepanie Stotts, are serving as the co-leads with Dr. Ozbay.

Also taking part in the research projects are the following University faculty members: Dr. Sathya Elavarthi, associate professor of agriculture and natural resources; Dr. Tomasz Smolinski, associate professor of computer and information sciences; and Dr. Derrick Scott, assistant professor of biological sciences; Dr. Vasudevan Ayyappan, research scientist; as well as postdoctoral research associates Dr. Mayavan Subramani and Dr. Antonette Todd.

The University’s Center for Integrated Biological and Environmental Research (CIBER) serves as the EPSCoR hub for the University. Dr. Kalavacharla is the director of CIBER.

The University of Delaware received the first EPSCoR funding in 2005. Delaware State University joined them as a co-principal investigating institution and also received multi-year research funding in 2008 and 2013 – the latter year in which it was responsible for a research area on bioenergy.

Since 2005, Delaware State University has received $17 million in direct EPSCoR funding. Dr. Kalavacharla said that faculty, staff, and students at the University have benefited tremendously from EPSCoR funding.

“We have been able to conduct cutting-edge research, develop collaborations, hire and fund faculty, and most importantly provide experiential training and funding to graduate and undergraduate students across the University’s STEM programs,” he said. “In the previous programs, faculty have received seed grants that enabled them to start off their research and obtain valuable data to seek larger federal funding opportunities, while encouraging students to pursue excellence in research and education.”

Dr. Mishoe noted that the EPSCoR funding is valuable for the State of Delaware because it brings about scientific collaborations among its institutions of higher education and it gives students the opportunity for hands-on research.

“This research helps to prepare our students to be leaders, to ask the right question, identify the real problem, and as a result improve the quality of life for all,” Dr. Mishoe said.

She added that Delaware State University is grateful to Gov. Carney and the Congressional delegation for ensuring the inclusion of the state’s only Historically Black University in EPSCoR.