$2 Million NSF Grant supports Research Opportunities for Diverse Cohort of Islander Graduate Students

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi’s Dr. Dorina Murgulet, Professor and Director for the Center for Water Supply Studies, was recently awarded a $2 million grant courtesy of the National Science Foundation. Murgulet’s work aims to increase diversity in the nation’s environmental science pool through the development of a Track 2 National Science Foundation Research Traineeship program.

“A challenge this program addresses head on is representation, given the lack of gender, ethnic, and racial diversity in the targeted disciplines involving environmental sciences,” Murgulet said. “Creating a new pipeline from diverse coastal communities to the environmental science workforce is necessary to address the mismatch between the diverse demographics of coastal communities and the lack of diversity among U.S. environmental scientists.”

Alongside Murgulet, who serves as the program director, the program will be led by TAMU-CC Co-Principal Investigators, Drs. Xinping Hu, Jennifer Pollack, Chuntao Liu, and Philippe Tissot.

The program, titled “Harnessing the Data Revolution (HDR) for Stakeholder-Guided Environmental Science,” better known as STAGES, draws on the convergence of systems science to train graduate students to conduct large data analysis and visualizations through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine-learning techniques in the Gulf of Mexico.

“The Gulf of Mexico offers a vibrant and living laboratory to train graduate students in a coastal region of national importance in research, education, and community resilience,” Murgulet said. “During the training process, trainees will become better science communicators who can engage stakeholders and grasp the ethical dimensions of their decisions for long-term collaborations.”

Currently in its planning and student recruitment stage, the program is set to begin hands-on work in spring 2023 and will span three years. The project will recruit three diverse cohorts of graduate-level trainees who will be required to participate in monthly seminars and complete Coastal and Marine System Science (CMSS) coursework, where they will prepare for the stakeholder-driven research questions. Then, they will work alongside faculty, mentors, and stakeholders to co-develop meaningful research projects.

“The coursework within CMSS will connect innovative research to practitioner and community needs to answer stakeholder-guided questions of regional and national concern,” Murgulet said.

Once projects are finalized, they will be presented at the research symposiums throughout campus.

The stakeholders in the STAGES program involve government agencies on all levels, all of whom share a common goal to improve the resiliency of coastal natural resources and communities. These partners include the Port of Corpus Christi, Texas Water Development Board, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Weather Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and more.

“This program seeks to train the next generation of experts to conduct big data analyses in interdisciplinary research settings for a globally competitive workforce,” Murgulet said. “Coastal climate change is a grand challenge, and there is a need to generate actionable new knowledge and solutions to address this challenge using convergent approaches.”