EL PASO – The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) announced the award of a $7.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support a global effort to engage the public and change the way geoscience is perceived, taught and applied.
The work of the Community Driven Inclusive Excellence and Leadership Opportunities in the Geosciences program, also known as CIELO-G, will consist of three pillars: professional development opportunities and funding for students, community involvement in geoscience projects, and research that impacts the Paso del Norte community.
One of the main goals of the program is to prepare Hispanic students to enter the geoscience field, historically one of the least diverse in academia. Geoscience is the study of the Earth: rocks and soils; volcanic activity and earthquakes; oceans, lakes and rivers; glaciers; the atmosphere; and the processes that affect them, such as climate change, drought, pollution and population growth.
“At UTEP we advance knowledge and engage potential students in how exciting research can be,” stated Heather Wilson, President of UTEP.
CIELO-G’s guiding principles have been in development for more than 15 years. Aaron Velasco, Professor of Earth, Environmental and Resource Sciences, is the principal investigator for the project. He and his co-investigators Benjamin Brunner, Hugo Gutierrez, Marianne Karplus, and Lin Ma saw the need for a systematic approach to generate diverse talent in the geosciences and create a mutually beneficial relationship between researchers and the community, as they felt it will become increasingly relevant as climate change continues to affect weather, water availability, and agriculture in the border area.
“I am very proud that this project is becoming a reality. It is an excellent opportunity for us to conduct research that is responsive to the needs of the community and prepare students in this region to become innovative geoscientists,” stated Velasco.
CIELO-G currently provides financial support for six graduate students and their research projects, as well as for travel to scientific meetings and outreach activities. The number of students receiving financial assistance through the grant is expected to increase as the program progresses.
Ph.D. students Judith Hoyt and America Alvarez, along with two other students who are also part of the inaugural Research Fellows initiative presented their projects during an event on the UTEP campus to announce the NSF grant.
Alvarez and Hoyt are working to measure the difference in sunlight reflection between light and dark roofs in different parts of El Paso. The results of their research could help develop local strategies to reduce outdoor air temperatures and alleviate the urban heat island effect, which is linked to increased energy costs, air pollution levels and heat-related illnesses.
“Through CIELO-G we can work directly with the community to solve local problems unique to our region, stemming from climate change, natural hazards and water sustainability. We hope that our current and future research will bring change to El Paso-Juárez and serve as a foundation for other communities,” said Álvarez.
To advance its mission, the CIELO-G team will work with a diverse set of local organizations such as Insights El Paso Science Center, Frontera Land Alliance and several others.