SURGE project earns National Science Foundation Grant


José Rodríguez

The Minority SURGE Capacity in Disasters project at the University of Nebraska at Omaha has been issued a $299,936grant by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

It is commonly referred to as the SURGE (Scholars from Under-Represented Groups in Engineering and the Social Sciences) project, and seeks to build the capacity in disaster with scholars from science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

The grant is through the NSF INCLUDES (Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science) program.

“The idea was to increase the number of minority STEM graduates who work on disasters and hazards research to provide them with the proper development professionally and academically,” said Assistant Professor DeeDee Bennett, Ph.D. “So that they are staying in their programs and being as successful as they can be.”

Such objectives fallin line with those of the NSF INCLUDES program, which claims that it seeks to enhance U.S. leadership in STEM discoveries and innovations through inclusion of all sectors and groups in society.

National Science Foundation INCLUDES issued 27 of these awards in September 2017, in an effort to broaden participation in science and engineering and find solutions to the STEM inclusion hurdle.

“It is an initiative they started last year, and this year they only announce 27 new design and development launch pilots, and we are one of them,” Bennett said.

Out of the 27 projects, SURGE is the only project connecting disasters to the STEM inclusion efforts.

“It goes hand in hand with what’s going on right now, looking at devastation after Harvey and Irma and knowing that some of the communities are disproportionately impacted there,” Bennett said. “They need to know how to build that social capital to get things done.”

Other people involved in the grant are Lori Peak,Ph.D. professor of sociology and director of the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado-Boulder;Hans Louis-Charles, assistant professor in UNO’s Emergency Services program;Terri Norton, Ph.D. associate professor of construction engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; and Nnenia Campbell, research associate at the Natural Hazards Center at CU Boulder.

The faculty hopes the connections made through this grant will lead to more grants in the future.

“One of the things that I have noticed since being an academia is that having one grant of this magnitude can open doors to getting other grants and to being able to do other things,” Bennett said.

Although it is a project they are pushing out through UNO, students from other accredited programs can be part of the SURGE project, Bennett said. T

his is the case with Architectural Engineering UNL graduate student Lucy Ampaw-Asiedu at the Peter Kiewit Institute, who plans to participate in the SURGE project primarily doing research in her area of study which concerns disaster.

“STEM graduate students should get into hazards and disaster research programs because students should know that by joining the program they help to create a safe place and more resilient communities,” Ampaw-Asiedu said.

With the initial start date of Sept. 15, 2017 and with an estimated end date of Aug.31 for the grant, the SURGE project team is already starting to visualize and plan for their goals.

Some of these include increasing the number of graduate research underrepresented students in STEM fields with a disaster focus, develop and guide qualified scholars from these fields, provide mentorship and develop professional and research opportunities for minorities and vulnerable communities in the country.