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October 02, 2023 | Tom Ballard

Five TN universities awarded nearly $1.9 million in NSF funding

They were among 27 winners in the inaugural "Experiential Learning for Emerging and Novel Technologies" (ExLENT) program.

Five Tennessee universities are among 27 recipients of funding from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) inaugural “Experiential Learning for Emerging and Novel Technologies” (ExLENT) program. The winners include, in alphabetical order, Fisk University, Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), Tennessee Tech University ((TTU), University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC), and Vanderbilt University.

Four of the five – Fisk, MTSU, TTU and UTC – all are part of something called “Creating and Sustaining a Diverse Community of Expertise in Quantum Information Science (EQUIS) Across the Southeastern United States.” It is focused on quantum information science and engineering (QISE ), an emerging field where there is a critical need for educating the workforce and broadening participation in QISE that will be crucial to preparing future generations for related emerging technology fields while also enabling the development of QISE practical applications.

In the case of the award to Vanderbilt, it involves a multi-organizational effort that also includes the Urban League of Middle Tennessee, Tennessee Coalition for Health Science and BioSTEM, and Tennessee Board of Regents working together to pilot a novel model for equitable workforce development. Known as the “Coalition Responsible for Equitable Skills Training” (CREST), the focus is on addressing the availability of a trained workforce of biotechnicians which is the foundational aspect of a biomedical innovation ecosystem.

Armed with $999,879, the partners will pilot and distribute, both statewide and region-wide, a “CREST Biotechnician Bootcamp” to train, certify, and transform inclusive cohorts of community participants into a nationally certified biotechnician workforce in 90 days. The Bootcamp will not create a new biotechnology technician training curriculum but adapt proven, state-approved standards, immersive practices, and positive outcomes of the three-year, secondary education, Tennessee BioSTEM program into a 90-day bootcamp.

Charleson Bell, who already serves as Director of the new NSF-funded Mid-South I-Corps Hub, is the Principal Investigator.

The awards for the other four Tennessee universities range from a low of $90,031 for Fisk University to $264,322 for MTSU, $258,486 for UTC, and $270,409 for TTU. Collectively, they will focus on four main thrusts: experiential learning in QISE, QISE workforce development, fostering regional QISE partnerships, and broadening QISE participation.

Other regional recipients include:

  • Auburn University, which is the fifth institution that is part of the EQUIS initiative;
  • Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University for its “Experiential Learning on Digital Agriculture and Plant Phenotyping Technologies” (DAPPT);
  • HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology for a project titled “Experiential Learning for Emerging Biotechnology Careers”;
  • North Carolina State University for a project titled “Enabling Access for Historically Underserved and Underrepresented Groups to Experiential Learning and Credentials in Artificial Intelligence”; and
  • University of Florida for its “VETS-HASTE: Veterans SkillBridge through Industry based Hardware Security Training and Education.

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