Oklahoma State University agricultural and natural resource researchers will play pivotal roles in a five-year $20 million grant seeking to identify and solve the most pressing societal problems associated with water availability, land use and infrastructure in Oklahoma.
The multi-institutional, multi-disciplinary grant project starting July 1 is funded through the National Science Foundation’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, better known as EPSCoR.
“I anticipate seeing positive community effects early in the project through the open dialogues our researchers and cooperating partners will be establishing with residents, civic and county leaders, officials and other stakeholders across the state,” said Ray Huhnke, project director of Oklahoma EPSCoR and director of OSU’s Biobased Products and Energy Center.
In addition to faculty from OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, College of Arts and Sciences and College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology, researchers will be drawn from the University of Oklahoma, Noble Research Institute in Ardmore, Langston University, University of Tulsa, East Central University in Ada and Southwestern Oklahoma State University.
Two faculty members from the College of the Muscogee Nation in Okmulgee will focus on undergraduate teaching benefits.
“Chris Zou, Gail Wilson and I will collaborate closely with researchers from OU and the Noble Research Institute to determine tradeoffs of various management approaches and land uses on carbon storage and water yield, and to determine how woody plant encroachment affects carbon and water dynamics,” said Rodney Will. The trio are faculty members with OSU’s Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management.
OSU’s Kevin Wagner, director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Center, will take a lead role in coordinating efforts among researchers at OU, OSU and SWOSU to advance innovative water treatment technologies and systems that will allow greater use of saline and other marginal quality waters to meet future needs in Oklahoma and beyond.
Dayton Lambert, holder of the Willard R. Sparks Endowed Chair in Agribusiness with OSU’s Department of Agricultural Economics, will focus on social science aspects seeking to improve awareness of how Oklahomans’ outlook toward water, land and energy resources can best be used to conduct productive discussions for developing practical solutions.
“As an engineer, I was trained to use hard sciences to find solutions to problems, but when I entered the workforce, I soon realized the best hard-science solution might not be the most practical when the human component is considered,” Huhnke said. “By bringing social science considerations into the process early, we hope to find science-based solutions that have broad societal acceptance and success.”
Other OSU faculty involved include Clint Aichele, Prem Bikkina, Rifat Bulut, Babu Fathepure, Mark Krzmarzick, Liesel Ritchie and Yuting Zhou. In all, there are more than 30 researchers from state institutions currently associated with the project.
As with prior NSF-EPSCoR projects, researchers will work closely with educators, workforce-development leaders and others across Oklahoma to deliver both specific and broad-based science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs to all age groups.
Another benefit of the $20 million grant program is how it better positions participating institutions to compete for additional federal, state and industry dollars. Huhnke said the project is expected to eventually add more faculty, graduate student researchers and specialized equipment to state institutions while expanding related educational and outreach programs.
The OSU Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources is comprised of the Ferguson College of Agriculture and the university’s two state agencies: OSU Extension and the Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station system.