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University of Nebraska Public Policy Center

NSF Grant Awarded to Boost Graduate Education in Agricultural Resilience

A five-year, $2.9 million grant from the National Science Foundation has been awarded to an interdisciplinary team from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The program is led by Craig Allen, a research professor and director of the Nebraska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit along with Sebastian Elbaum, Charles Bessey Professor of computer science and engineering; Francisco Munoz-Arriola, assistant professor of biological systems engineering; Dirac Twidwell, assistant professor of agronomy and horticulture; and Public Policy Center associate director, Dr. Nancy Shank, all serving as a Co-Prinicipal Investigators.

This project will launch an interdisciplinary graduate training program focused on understanding resilience and vulnerability in agricultural landscapes. The goal is to help students and professionals make informed decisions about how to best use limited natural resources as global demands for food, energy and water increase. Approximately 20 trainees will study resilience in the Platte River Basin, where agricultural systems are among the most efficient and productive in the world. But this success – and the economic livelihood of many Nebraskans – is threatened by water shortages, demographic shifts, climate variability and changing land use patterns. “The basin is an area of tremendous agricultural innovation,” Allen said. “Understanding the resilience of that system should help us maintain it for the long term and replicate it globally to help ensure local and global food security.”

Master’s and doctoral students will take part in research, specialized coursework and seminars exposing them to resilience and panarchy theory, policy development, modeling and technology. To link theory with practice, the program also includes management professionals from partnering agencies and nongovernmental institutions, including the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, and the Nature Conservancy. The professionals will participate in short courses and co-learning opportunities with students. The students will also participate in externships at the partnering organizations. The international training piece of the project taps into an existing collaboration between the university and the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education in the Netherlands. Students will learn field, measurement and laboratory skills in an environment with Nebraska-like river systems but different climate, economic and social factors.

The first cohort of students is expected to begin training in January 2018.