Gulf Scholars Program Launched at Rice

Dear Rice Community,

I am writing with some exciting news about a new National Academies Gulf Research Program that will expand the opportunities Rice students have to study and impact the most pressing environmental, health, energy and infrastructure challenges in the Gulf of Mexico region.

The Gulf Scholars Program is a five-year, $12.7 million pilot program that prepares undergraduate students to be future leaders who will serve the region as scientists, engineers, educators, community leaders, policymakers, designers and innovators in local communities.

The program, which extends through 2025, will establish its inaugural cohort at seven universities in the Gulf states: Florida A&M University, Florida State University, Jackson State University, Rice University, Tulane University, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Xavier University of Louisiana. Up to seven additional colleges and universities will be added each year through 2025, reaching more than 25 colleges and universities in the pilot phase alone.

Each participating university will receive funds to create academic, co-curricular and extracurricular experiences related to the GRP’s core focus areas — community health and resilience, environmental protection and stewardship, and offshore energy safety. Funds will also be used to provide faculty and staff support, engage evaluation specialists and secure undergraduate research experiences.

Having served with Renata Ramos, associate dean for academic affairs for the School of Engineering, on a working group that developed the concept for the Gulf Scholars Program, I can tell you this is a fantastic opportunity to study and find solutions to the many challenges faced by an area so uniquely tied to Houston’s success. Resilience and environmental challenges are urgent and require a multidisciplinary approach. Having the resources to dedicate to such a cause will create a vast support network dedicated to the environmental health and resilience of the Gulf of Mexico region.

Many Gulf region colleges and universities are in communities that are already feeling the effects of more frequent extreme weather events. These events — combined with other issues facing the Gulf, including health disparities, oil spills and an extractive economy — could leave the region more vulnerable when natural and human-made disasters strike. Solving these complex, compounding challenges requires a variety of skills and perspectives, and each Gulf Scholars Program university partner will engage students from multiple disciplines, including the natural and social sciences, engineering, humanities, architecture, business and the arts.

The program was designed to prepare students for leadership in the Gulf by deepening their understanding of the contextual, social and economic issues in the region. It also specifies six thematic elements that institutions must address in their proposal: project-based learning, multidisciplinary and integrative learning, innovation and entrepreneurialism, intercultural knowledge and competencies, social responsibility, and knowledge of the Gulf region.

Jamie Padgett will be the faculty director for Rice’s Gulf Scholars Program. Called GSP@Rice, Jamie said the program will build on Rice’s strengths to provide mentoring, training and interdisciplinary community-engaged research experiences for a new cohort of undergraduate students each year related to climate and hazard resilience. She said the program will provide both unique learning experiences for our students as well as a chance for Rice to target our efforts to tackle grand challenges in our own backyard.

The program complements Rice’s other resilience and environmental initiatives, including the work that’s being done at the Carbon Hub, the Kinder Institute for Urban Research, the Nanosystems Engineering Research Center for Nanotechnology Enabled Water Treatment (NEWT), the Center for Environmental Studies in the School of Humanities, the Center for Energy Studies in the Baker Institute for Public Policy and the Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters Center (SPEED).

These efforts and many others make Rice well-poised to advance its existing work and make a fresh commitment with this new program to address both the challenges and opportunities that today’s environment presents.

By the end of the pilot phase, the Gulf Scholars Program will involve more than 25 public and private universities, including an intentional focus on minority-serving institutions across the Gulf, and aims to have 150 undergraduate students in total.

All program participants will complete a comprehensive research or creative project, ideally in partnership with a community organization. In addition, the Gulf Scholars Program will host an annual conference, allowing students to share their research projects, exchange ideas and hear from academic, civic and industry leaders.

For more information about the Gulf Scholars Program, click here.

Warm regards,

Reginald DesRoches, Howard Hughes Provost