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$3M Grant to Bolster MSI Cyberinfrastructure, PD Opportunities

A $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation will enable minority-serving institutions to bolster their cyberinfrastructure and open up STEM professional development opportunities. The newly formed Minority Serving - Cyberinfrastructure Consortium (MS-CC) intends to develop a community of practice across participating campuses that collaborates on cyberinfrastructure, education and research applications. Those include institutions that are Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) and other Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs).

Over the two-year grant period, working alongside Internet2 and the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC), MS-CC will focus on addressing the barriers preventing HBCUs, TCUs, HSIs and other MSIs from achieving their primary data and research computing needs. The obstacles surfaced during surveys done within minority-serving schools.

Barriers referenced in the survey results included lack of broadband infrastructure, both to institutions and on campuses. Respondents prioritized connectivity, equipment, security and access to technology for supporting research programs, followed closely by data storage, data management and data analytics. Survey participants also gave strong support to the need for collaboration and engagement among minority-serving institutions, accessible and responsible data infrastructure for campus operations, and strong potential for data and computing to address community culture and social disparities.

The research project is being led by Ana Hunsinger, vice president of community engagement at Internet2 and the grant's principal investigator. Co-principal investigators include Deborah Dent, chief information officer at Jackson State University; Richard Aló, dean of the college of science and technology at Florida A&M University; Damian Clarke, chief information officer at Meharry Medical College; and Al Kuslikis, senior associate for strategic initiatives at AIHEC.

A big objective is to increase awareness and support for professional and career development opportunities for faculty, staff and students at HBCUs and TCUs.

"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, in a statement. "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."

"We're keenly aware of the vast diversity in size and missions among HBCUs and TCUs in the United States, but see great potential in working collaboratively on shared research and education cyberinfrastructure challenges," added 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."

At least some portion of the funding is being provided under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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