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NSF grants bolster integrative graduate study at UW-Madison

Madison, Wis. - In an impressive display of grant-winning ability, the University of Wisconsin-Madison has received twin grants from the National Science Foundation to address some of the world's most complex issues, including climate change.

The NSF grants, coupled with matching institutional funds, will provide a $6.8 million boost to the university's graduate study and research in global sustainability, development, and environmental protection.

The two $3 million grants - one of which will go to the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, another to the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) - come from the NSF's Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeships program. Several UW-Madison campus units, including the Division of International Studies and the Graduate School, will make up the $800,000 difference.

UW-Madison is accustomed to receiving federal grants, but the IGERT grants are hard to come by. Fewer than 20 of them will be awarded nationally this year. "Each award, in itself, is fantastic for the university, but to receive two at the same time is a rare event," said Jonathan Patz, an associate professor of environmental studies and population health sciences.

The grants will support the training and research of more than 40 doctoral students over five years. The university's matching funds will supplement each grant so that every student receives a full fellowship for two years, and the potential for synergy between the Nelson Institute and CALS projects is an exciting prospect for the institution.
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"They [the grants] will make it possible to create both an interdisciplinary and international team of students able to cross physical and intellectual borders with new insights and skills," said Gilles Bousquet, dean of International Studies.

The projects

The Nelson Institute's IGERT program includes 10 faculty members in departments ranging from atmospheric and oceanic sciences to sociology. As such, it attempts to merge the natural and social sciences to study the vulnerabilities and resilience of communities that face environmental hazards like global climate change. Patz, who will direct the program, said addressing global environmental problems requires a degree of coordination between the natural and social sciences.

Meanwhile, the CALS project will target biodiversity conservation and sustainable development in the eastern Himalayas of southwest China, the site of a long-term collaboration between UW-Madison and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Most of the major challenges of biodiversity conservation occur in tropical and subtropical regions of developing countries, where western researchers confront a different set of biological, social, and economic interactions than they do in North America.

The university's IGERT fellows will travel to southwest China for summer training, language study, and fieldwork. In turn, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which has committed $1 million to the collaboration, will send students and scientists to Madison and apply its findings to improve conservation and economic conditions in the eastern Himalayas.

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