BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The National Science Foundation has chosen the
University at Buffalo to receive a prestigious $3.1 million grant
to train a new generation of environmental experts, using the
ecological treasures of Western New York and the Great Lakes basin
as a "living laboratory."
From Niagara Falls to the Southern tier, some of Western New
York's lakes, rivers, creeks and shorelines will benefit from
creation of the new, grant-funded doctoral program, which will
involve UB students in research projects focused on restoring
ecosystems in Western New York.
Potential projects include evaluating the success of local
stream restoration, assessing indices designed to characterize
ecosystem health in stressed urban environments, developing new
simulation models for the Great Lakes and surrounding watersheds,
evaluating how pharmaceuticals and personal-care products
discharged into sewers impact Lake Erie fish and comparing U.S.,
Canadian and Native American perspectives on assessing and
restoring stressed ecosystems.
The 25 doctoral students selected for the "Ecosystem Restoration
Through Interdisciplinary Exchange" (ERIE) program will be among
the first in the nation to be trained with a strong foundation in
the engineering, scientific and policymaking considerations
involved in restoring ecosystems, whether they are studying civil
engineering, biology, chemistry, geology, geography, philosophy or
Applications are now being accepted. Students in the first ERIE
class will be admitted early in 2008, and begin their doctoral
studies in September.
"The primary goal of any training grant at UB is to train
world-class scientists," said Satish K. Tripathi, Ph.D., provost
and executive vice president for academic affairs. "This particular
grant will be training pioneering researchers in interdisciplinary
methods that are directly applicable to Western New York. In that
sense, it is not only the program's ambitious graduate students who
will benefit from this grant but also the rich, natural landscape
of Western New York that we are privileged to call 'home.'"
The UB grant is one of just 20 awarded nationally this year in
NSF's Integrative Graduate Education Research and Traineeship
(IGERT) program. UB has previously received IGERTs in geographic
information science and biophotonics. The program's goal is to give
doctoral students an interdisciplinary focus so that when they
graduate they bring strong collaborative skills to their careers in
research and industry.
"Ecosystem restoration is inherently complex because ecosystems
are complex," said Alan Rabideau, Ph.D., professor of civil,
structural and environmental engineering in the UB School of
Engineering and Applied Sciences, and principal investigator on
ERIE. "The restoration design process must address the hydrology,
ecology and the social and political environment where an ecosystem
Students in ERIE will have the opportunity to work with faculty
in seven different departments in UB's engineering school and its
College of Arts and Sciences. They also may also work with faculty
in the UB Law School, and at Buffalo State College, Niagara
University and several Canadian universities.
Unlike many graduate programs in related fields, ERIE integrates
social and policy considerations throughout the program to train
scientists to become sensitive to the broad range of values and
cultures in a diverse community, such as Western New York.
"The goal is that graduates will be drawn to socially relevant
problems and will have the interdisciplinary perspective to tackle
them," said Rabideau.
Students also will benefit from the project's partnerships and
internships with more than 16 local organizations, including the
environmental programs of the Tuscarora Nation, Seneca Nation of
Indians and Saint Regis Mohawk; Buffalo/Niagara Riverkeeper; the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. and Canadian environmental
ERIE's students will have the opportunity to work with Western
New York's Native American tribes on research projects.
"The National Science Foundation recognizes that in order to
clean up the environment, you must engage communities," said Don
Grinde, Ph.D., professor and chair of the UB Department of American
Studies and a co-principal investigator.
Grinde, an historian of the environment, author of Ecocide of
Native America: Environmental Destruction of Indian Lands and
Peoples (1995) and a Yamasee Indian, noted that several of the
watersheds that will be studied under the IGERT grant, such as
Cattaraugus Creek, the Niagara River and the Allegany River, flow
through or abut Indian reservations.
"This grant will engage Native American perspectives on the
environment, which have traditionally differed from and conflicted
with Western ideas about it," Grinde said.
Students who are accepted to the program through the Department
of American Studies, which has a strong Native American studies
component, will focus on environmental policy and human
The idea for ERIE grew out of work that Rabideau and his
colleagues have done on stream restoration with the U.S. Army Corps
of Engineers and Ecology and Environment, an environmental
It also grew out of partnerships forged by UB engineers,
scientists and legal scholars in an attempt to address the critical
gaps in restoring ecosystems.
"Right now, numerous techniques are being used to restore
ecosystems locally and nationally," said Rabideau, an expert in
environmental modeling. "This somewhat ad hoc approach makes it
difficult to generalize and improve our predictions of how
ecosystems will respond to human intervention. While numerous
restoration projects are being implemented by the federal and local
governments across North America, the supporting science is still
Students accepted into this program will be helping to develop
and evaluate that science through new methods, such as performance
metrics and models, to systematically evaluate the benefit of
specific changes made to ecosystems.
"While hydrologists worry about how the water flows in a stream
or creek, the ecologists worry about how changes in those flows
affect the fish and other organisms that live in those waters,"
said Rabideau. "In many cases, the ecologists and the hydrologists
don't fully understand the other's perspective."
Political and economic considerations add yet another layer of
complexity and potential conflict to ecosystem restoration
projects, he said.
"This program is unique because it thoroughly integrates
science, engineering, public policy and traditional Native American
approaches, while also focusing on the importance of educating all
of the affected communities in the region," Rabideau said.
Students will gain experience in translating their research into
public education through partnerships with K-12 science teachers at
the Native American Magnet School and Seneca Math/Science
Technology School, both part of the Buffalo Public Schools. They
also will undergo formal training with UB's National Science
Foundation-funded Center for Case Study Teaching in Science.
The grant will pay tuition and a $30,000-per-year stipend for
two years of doctoral study, plus funds for research, travel and
internships. Additional support will be provided by the student's
For more information on the grant and to apply, go to http://www.erie.buffalo.edu.
Collaborations at UB that helped stimulate ERIE were supported
by UB "seed" grants from the Interdisciplinary Research and
Creative Activities Fund of the Office of the Vice President for
Research, the Institute for Local Governance and Regional Growth,
the Environment & Society Institute and the Baldy Center for
Law and Social Policy.
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive
public university, the largest and most comprehensive campus in the
State University of New York. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue
their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate,
graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the
University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American