S.D. more competitive in research funding

S.D. more competitive in research funding South Dakota is becoming more competitive in securing federal research dollars, and that means more capacity for the state's public universities to engage in projects that enhance long-term economic development, according to a report presented Dec. 12 to the South Dakota Board of Regents.

At its meeting in Rapid City, the Regents received a status report on South Dakota's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, known as EPSCoR.

"South Dakota continues to see an increase in the number of active National Science Foundation grants in the state," said James A. Rice, South Dakota's NSF-EPSCoR project director and head of the department of chemistry and biochemistry at South Dakota State University. "For the first time in its history, South Dakota had 100 active NSF grants during the past year."

In Fiscal Year 2001, South Dakota received a three-year, $9 million NSF grant to improve its research infrastructure, one of eight states across the country to be funded.

The NSF grant supports scientific research geared to biocomplexity studies, molecular and cellular biology, 21st century materials and processes, and visualization and information technology at South Dakota State University, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, and The University of South Dakota. Those institutions provide $1.5 million annually to match the NSF funding.

Among the past year's accomplishments, Rice noted that two mobile science labs were created to bring modern science laboratory experiments to K-12 schools across the state. In addition, major equipment purchases were made to support research work on the three campuses, 44 undergraduate students received financial support to conduct their summer research, and 39 graduate students were awarded research assistantships.

Another focus of EPSCoR activity is grant funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and Rice suggested that this particular agency is one that South Dakota should keep its eye on. The NIH budget will increase significantly over the next several years to about $250 million, he said.

"The NIH EPSCoR program represents a major opportunity for South Dakota to develop the research infrastructure to compete for biomedical and health sciences research funding," Rice said.

The USD Medical School already has benefited from several NIH grants, the most recent worth $9.5 million for five years to fund a cardiovascular research center in Sioux Falls.

"Back in 1989, South Dakota ranked last in the nation in its capacity to earn federal research grant dollars," Regents' President Harvey C. Jewett said. "That's when the state began participating in EPSCoR and since then, the number of active NSF grants in South Dakota increased more than 2.2 times. All of this activity has a ripple effect, helping us leverage other grants and contracts."

Jewett noted the ultimate goal is to improve the state's physical and intellectual capacities and enhance economic development by improving the science, technology, and engineering infrastructure in higher education institutions and the private sector.

Of the more than $11.3 million South Dakota received competitively from NSF last year, 40 percent of it was awarded to public universities under the Board of Regents' governance. Another 29 percent of the funding went to non-Regental institutions, 26 percent to tribal colleges, and 5 percent to small businesses.

"The NSF-EPSCoR project clearly benefits all of South Dakota and its impacts are felt from border to border," Jewett said.

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