NSF grant to advance cyberinfrastructure at HBCUs

by | Sep 28, 2021

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is spearheading a new $3 million Cyberinfrastructure Center of Excellence (CI CoE) Pilot program to provide better access to cyberinfrastructure resources to HBCUs.

The two-year grant, overseen by the Minority Serving – Cyberinfrastructure Consortium (MS-CC) and Internet2, will provide researchers, professional staff, and students from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) with programs and services that address their cyberinfrastructure needs. The funding also seeks to build on earlier work by the MS-CC and Internet2, including three stakeholder mapping surveys administered to HBCUs, TCUs, Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs), and other MSIs. The survey results have found that limited workforce development opportunities and cyberinfrastructure capabilities are the two biggest barriers to achieving their cyberinfrastructure goals.

Deborah Dent, chief information officer at Jackson State University and co-principal investigator on the grant, says the NSF-funded CI CoE pilot will have transformative impacts on advanced cyberinfrastructure for research and education at currently underserved colleges and universities.

“We’re working toward establishing shared research cyberinfrastructure across a distributed community of colleges and universities in a mix of urban, suburban, and rural settings, many of which are on the wrong side of the digital divide,” said Dent. “We have the data and empirical evidence that show what the immediate cyberinfrastructure needs are and what barriers are preventing campuses from achieving them. This grant is helping us formalize how we support underserved institutions by funding programs and services that prioritize addressing these gaps.”

Over the course of the two-year grant period, MS-CC, in collaboration with Internet2 and the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC), will work to address the barriers revealed by the stakeholder mapping surveys that are preventing HBCUs, TCUs, HSIs, and other MSIs from achieving their primary data and research computing needs.

A key component of this effort is increasing awareness and support for professional and career development opportunities for faculty, staff, and students at HBCUs and TCUs.

Ana Hunsinger, vice president of community engagement at Internet2 and the grant’s principal investigator, says the formalization of a vibrant community of practice across MS-CC campuses that involves collaboration on cyberinfrastructure, education, and research applications is a shared vision among the collaborators.

“We’re keenly aware of the vast diversity in size and missions among HBCUs and TCUs in the U.S., but see great potential in working collaboratively on shared research and education cyberinfrastructure challenges,” said Hunsinger. “This NSF grant will propel the synergy among the MS-CC, AIHEC, and Internet2, allowing us to create opportunities for members from HBCUs and TCUs to get the resources, support, and training they need. All while building communities of practice and creating spaces where mentorship can flourish.”

Among the goals of the grant is to increase access to cyberinfrastructure resources to empower researchers in their use of advanced cyberinfrastructure at the campus, regional, national, and international levels.

Additionally, the grant will support the promotion of effective communication among researchers, university leadership, and cyberinfrastructure professionals by extending and enhancing the reach and impact of campus and national research computing infrastructures to institutions with minority-serving missions.

“We’re taking an adaptive approach to operating as a consortium, and we’re committed to learning and adjusting our operational model to ensure that we continue to lift all participating institutions by advancing cyberinfrastructure for research and education across diverse fields, disciplines, and communities,” said Richard Aló, dean of the college of science and technology at Florida A&M University, and co-principal investigator on the grant.

By the end of the two-year funding period, the MS-CC hopes to establish itself as an independent, self-sustaining organization focused on cyberinfrastructure at HBCUs, TCUs, and other MSIs.


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