UD receives $12 million for research, workforce development

The University of Delaware has received significant support for research, education and workforce development projects in the federal government’s $1.5 trillion omnibus spending bill, which President Joe Biden signed into law on March 15.

Congressionally Directed Spending (CDS), which runs through the Senate and House Appropriations Committees, allows senators and representatives to target funding to specific projects in their home states. Delaware’s congressional delegation secured $97 million for key projects across the state, with over $12 million going to UD and its higher education partners.

“We are incredibly grateful to Delaware’s congressional delegation for championing this funding for projects at the University of Delaware,” said UD President Dennis Assanis. “It will spark innovation in areas critical to Delaware’s future, from teacher-preparation programs to vaccine manufacturing, and provide long-term benefits for the state. These projects also will pay major dividends in the education of our students — the state’s future workforce — and help drive Delaware’s economy in new areas.”

The funding to UD will accelerate the development of vaccines and other life-saving drugs through the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL) headquartered at the University’s Science, Technology and Advanced Research — STAR — Campus. It will enhance teacher education programs for students of color and expand access to the latest technologies for Delawareans with disabilities.

The funding also will establish three new centers aimed at preparing the workforce of the future — in offshore wind, environmental robotics and space science — with partners and collaborators at Delaware State University and Delaware Technical Community College.

“I am glad that we were able to secure funding for projects that will not only help communities up and down the First State, but bolster economic development, research and innovation at the University of Delaware,” said Sen. Tom Carper. “I’m proud our congressional delegation was able to deliver this funding that will have lasting impacts for years to come.”

Sen. Chris Coons, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, also commented.

“As the first Delaware senator in more than 40 years to serve on the Appropriations Committee, I am proud to have secured over $12 million for projects that will make a huge impact at the University of Delaware and up and down our state,” Sen. Coons said. “This funding will support clean energy, invest in our workforce and will make a substantial investment in the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL), which is located on UD’s STAR Campus. I am grateful for President Assanis’ leadership and for the partnership of the federal delegation in securing this funding.”

Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester said, “My top priority in this appropriations bill was investing in Delaware to make our communities healthier, safer and stronger. The University of Delaware is an invaluable partner in that effort and the community projects that the entire Congressional Delegation was able to help secure will strengthen our economy and the quality life across the state.”

The funding will support the following projects and centers:

Innovation in Biopharmaceutical Manufacturing

Biopharmaceuticals are produced from living cells, which makes these therapeutics challenging to manufacture. Kelvin Lee, director of NIIMBL, will lead a project that will support the design-build and engineering work necessary for the construction of a current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) facility to support biopharmaceutical innovation for clinical research and help the nation be better prepared for responding to public health emergencies. In addition, a process development testbed will be implemented to explore continuous manufacturing of therapeutic proteins and vaccines. These activities will support the anticipated need for enhanced workforce training efforts in biopharmaceutical manufacturing. Currently, the U.S. is the world leader in biopharma R&D, with over 800,000 people working in the industry.

Assistive Technology for Delawareans

Technology can be a huge lifeline and equalizer for people with disabilities, who are at far greater risk of social isolation than the general population. This project, led by Beth Mineo, director of UD’s Center for Disabilities Studies, will expand the inventory of cutting-edge devices available for testing and trial use at UD’s Assistive Technology Resource Centers, which are located in Newark and Milford. Eye-gaze-controlled navigation devices, talking glucose monitors and stove shut-off devices are just a few of these life-changing tools. The team also has a focus on establishing guidance for educators serving children and youth to ensure that assistive technology is readily available, and will provide training for educators, students and families in partnership with the Delaware Department of Education.

Teachers Education Programs for Students of Color

For students of color, representation of teachers of color in the workforce is associated with higher academic achievement, decreased suspension and expulsion rates, and increased college attendance. In Delaware, Teacher Academy programs that prepare high school students for careers in education have resulted in higher participation rates by students of color. This project, co-led led by Rena Hallam, UD professor of human development and family science, and Kristina Najera, director of the Delaware Center for Teacher Education, will develop a pipeline from Teacher Academy programs to UD’s early childhood and elementary teacher education programs by providing academy students with clinical experiences at UD. An associate’s degree program in early childhood education also will be developed at UD.

Delaware Space Observation Center

There is a whole universe to explore out there, and this new center, a collaboration of UD and DSU, is going to help Delawareans do just that. The research component, led by Bennett Maruca, UD assistant professor of physics and astronomy, will integrate a high-performance computer cluster for analyzing large data sets of the size to be collected by the 1.3-meter telescope under construction at Mt. Cuba Astronomical Observatory. A new interdisciplinary research lab will develop hardware for future space missions. The centerpieces of the public outreach effort, led by Matthew Bobrowsky, director of DSU’s Astronomical Observatory, will be a new remotely operated robotic telescope and a Voyage Scale Model Solar System, a permanent outdoor exhibit. Both will be located at DSU and will serve the public through workshops and special events.

Blue Economy Tech Center

The “blue economy” keys on the sustainable use of ocean resources for jobs and economic growth while maintaining the ocean’s health. Co-led by Art Trembanis, UD professor of marine science and policy, and Dewayne Fox, fisheries professor at DSU, and involving multiple industry and agency partners, this center will introduce underrepresented students to environmental robotics and other marine technologies. An outgrowth of UD’s Robotics Discovery Laboratories and Center for Autonomous and Robotic Systems, the new Blue Economy Tech Center will develop autonomous underwater robots and remote sensing systems to address needs relating to the marine environment, energy and climate change while promoting economic development and career training in Sussex and Kent counties. It aims to ignite both economic growth and environmental stewardship in the First State and beyond.

Offshore Wind Training Center

This new Lewes-based center will provide specialized training and certification in Global Wind Organization (GWO) standards to workers in the wind industry, including wind technicians, who install and later maintain wind turbines in the ocean, suppliers, port workers and sea survival and rescue personnel. The initiative is led by Cristina Archer, director of UD’s Center for Research in Wind, in collaboration with Willett Kempton, professor of marine science and policy, and David Lawson from Horn Entrepreneurship. The center will train and then hire local trainers from the Mid-Atlantic area. UD will team up with Delaware Technical Community College and its DTCC Delaware Pathways Initiative, which allows students to participate in work-based learning opportunities while providing credit toward many DTCC degree and workforce training programs. The center also will recruit, host and provide learning material to high school, community college and university instructors, with the goal of exposing classes or groups of interested students to exciting opportunities for work in the offshore wind energy field.

Article by Tracey Bryant | Photo by Evan Krape (featured on UDaily, 03/17/2022)

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