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NASA awards $72 million to UMBC, Morgan State for Earth sciences research partnership

NASA has jointly awarded $72 million to University of Maryland, Baltimore County and Morgan State University for a partnership that will support 120 affiliated researchers in Earth sciences.

The award provides $38 million to UMBC and $28 million to Morgan State over a three-year period to fund the second iteration of the Goddard Earth Sciences Technology and Research center, also referred to as GESTAR II. The center’s scientists and staff will “carry out observational, experimental and theoretical research in support of strategic mission objectives of NASA Earth Science,” according to a Morgan State news release.

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UMBC and Morgan State will together lead a consortium of universities including Colorado State, Arizona State and Pennsylvania State University as well as Northrop Grumman Corporation, Earth Resources Technology, Inc. and the nonprofit Southeastern Universities Research Association. Officials from the two Maryland universities hope the partnership will allow undergraduate and graduate students to conduct research with and be mentored by NASA scientists and engineers.

Previous research at a forerunner program has focused on the sea surface, snow cover and the atmosphere, using NASA data to model complex systems.

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The partnership also notably marks the first collaboration between the two Baltimore-area universities. Morgan State was a major partner in the first iteration of the GESTAR center, said university president David Wilson.

“I think it’s a lost opportunity that high performing institutions like Morgan State and like UMBC have not found any common ground to collaborate in a way that would advance innovation and competitiveness collectively for our region,” Wilson said of the partnership. “This is the first step.”

The announcement has “thrilled” Wilson, who hopes the award will lead to more federal grant opportunities and help the university grow into a top-tier research institution.

UMBC president Freeman A. Hrabowski III said he was “proud” of the collaboration, and that Maryland needs its institutions of higher education to work together.

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“We’re very excited to be working with our sister institution,” he said.

Hrabowski credited to the partnership to the universities’ vice presidents of research Karl Steiner, of UMBC, and Willie E. May, of Morgan State.

“Morgan brings more than a decade of experience working with NASA, and we look forward to partnering with UMBC and other collaborators in GESTAR II to produce cutting-edge, world-class Earth science in support of our national space program,” May said in a news release. “We are also very excited about what this partnership will mean for our students — more exposure, new educational pursuits and access to long-term employment opportunities.”

Belay Demoz will serve as GESTAR II’s incoming director, officials said in a release. Demoz previously headed UMBC’s Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology, which will see its funding sunset after about 25 years of work, the release states.

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