NDSU Recieves NSF Engine Award

Over the course of the past 2 years, NDSU has taken part in applying for the prestigious National Science Foundation’s Engines Award. In an interview with Hollie Mackey, an associate professor of education at NDSU, she describes what the NSF Engines Award is all about and how it is changing the outlook of sustainability in under-funded areas. “The NSF Engine award is a game changing concept from the National Science Foundation that is interested in thinking about how to take areas that don’t typically have high degrees of investment and infusing that investment into spaces that allow them to develop robust ecosystems that drive education, workforce, and economic development and connects use inspired research to outcomes,” said Mackey. NSF is striving to use cutting edge technology to establish food security and ignite ecosystems and look into larger problems affecting society today such as “How we feed the world,” catering to what growers, industry partners, and communities need in order to thrive.

The process began with a call from the National Science Foundation and the submission of an abstract. 188 abstracts were submitted over a 2 year period. The abstracts were narrowed down then to 32, and later to 16 that made the final selection. In the beginning, the selection process looked like job interview-style questions and answers as a baseline for applicants. After progressing farther into the selection process, NSF completed a 3-day site visit to NDSU in mid-September to assess the facilities. Mackey described many qualifications that NDSU met specifically for the National Science Foundation and some key elements to this success such as right place, right people, and right industry partners. NDSU FARMS has partnered with the Fargo Moorhead Economic Development, The Chamber for Education and Workforce Development, and Grand Farm to take part in this cutting edge opportunity.

Following being notified of having been chosen for this award, the kickoff was January 29th when NDSU announced the news, however the official start date is not until March 1st. FARMS (Food systems Adapted for Resiliency and Maximized Security), the regional partnership concept chosen by the NSF, is described by Mackey as an experiment. “FARMS is really an experiment on the collaborative process driving innovation through an ecosystem, this is something that has never been done before,” said Mackey. 

The NDSU students, researchers, and faculty come into play in many different ways in this opportunity. Engineering, business, education, and agricultural students are being represented as part of this research in many facets and are all written into the plan to be a part of this ecosystem. “Every major we have on campus can have a role in FARMS should they choose to. NDSU is a small but mighty school and people don’t necessarily take the time to stop and recognize the expertise we have at our university,” said Mackey on why NDSU will be able to thrive with this award. 

In terms of future outlooks and milestones, NDSU FARMS has committed to building a prototype by year two based on phenomic data on public crops collected by agricultural students, which the engineering scientists will use to build said prototype. This prototype will allow the researchers to dig into understanding the climate variables, soil variables, and growing conditions to help us think about more nutritional foods, when to harvest, and how to maximize yields of crops, all in hopes to improve knowledge of agricultural research.  

The NSF Engine Award presented to FARMS is a game changing opportunity for not only NDSU, but the community surrounding it. This is an ongoing venture that will only grow and develop from here, opening more and more opportunities for NDSU students, faculty, and Fargo-Moorhead community members. 

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