An open house held by the Virgin Islands Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) on Wednesday night drew few attendees but many ideas.
The organization is seeking public input on ways it can better promote science education and research in the territory.
EPSCoR is a program of the National Science Foundation dedicated to bringing researchers and policy makers together to use scientific research to bolster industries important in the municipalities they serve.
In the Virgin Islands, EPSCoR has primarily focused on marine science to help sustain the territory’s tourism industry.
During its first four-year funding cycle (2004-2008), EPSCoR promoted research on the topic of bio diversity in Caribbean coral reefs.
In the current cycle (2008-2013), they’ve expanded their research to look at how factors on the shoreline and in the watersheds affect the reefs.
For the next funding cycle, the organization is proposing to study the direct impact humans have on the health of the ocean, tackling subjects such as climate change and overfishing.
The open house was meant to give the public a chance to advise the organization on how they could better reach their research goals and to suggest other areas of research that might be beneficial to the island.
EPSCoR Director Dr. Henry Smith said they are in the process of preparing a proposal and that it is important the proposal reflects the needs of the public.
He explained that the organization has already gathered input from scientists in the territory and beyond, but this was one final chance for residents to offer their opinion.
The small crowd in attendance made several suggestions, but none in the area of marine science.
Several people asked if EPSCoR could direct some of its funds into medical research, suggesting possible studies into the efficacy of traditional Crucian bush remedies.
One man also suggested research be done into developing export markets for fruits and other plants native to the territory.
Smith explained that the majority of the program’s funding would need to go towards marine science to make the most of the research infrastructure that has been built up over the last decade. He said smaller “incubator” grants were available for research in other fields and promised to consider their proposals while creating the final funding proposal.
EPSCoR funds are distributed through several channels to achieve the organization’s goal of promoting research. Most directly, the organization awards research grants to scientists working in the territory.
The organization also provides the University of the Virgin Islands with funding to employ more research scientists at the school and helps improve the university’s labs and computer equipment.
EPSCoR also actively promotes science in the primary schools. The organization sponsors a “celebrity scientist” program, which brings scientists with interesting backgrounds into the schools for presentations. The scientists also agree to mentor two students interested in their fields.
To learn more about EPSCoR or to offer your input on their mission, visit www.epscor.uvi.edu.