NSF planning grant to help research team better understand needs of rural communities
Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019
MANHATTAN — A fundamental societal assumption is that current migration toward cities is an ideal resource distribution. But 80% of the U.S. population who live in these urban centers are vulnerable to climate change results such as rising sea levels, storm surges and heat waves.
In light of this, the question that will be addressed at Kansas State University, recently funded by a National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center planning grant, becomes what should be our investment in infrastructure and systems in depopulating rural areas that would create a more resilient infrastructure overall in the areas of food systems, energy resources and healthy environments.
This one-year, $99,907 planning grant, the first of its type awarded to the university, will capture a more complete understanding of the rural landscape as defined by a wide range of stakeholders, allowing the team to understand these challenges to rural communities and create better engineered solutions. Information gained through gathering mechanisms such as workshops will be used to create a detailed database that will paint a contemporary picture of rural landscapes, highlighting the differences in human and natural capital, and providing the information needed to make informed decisions.
Stacy Hutchinson, associate dean of engineering and professor of biological and agricultural engineering in the Carl R. Ice College of Engineering at Kansas State University, is principal investigator on the planning grant that includes co-investigators Melanie Derby, associate professor of mechanical and nuclear engineering, and Nathan Hendricks, associate professor of agricultural economics.
They will partner with colleagues from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Washington State University to plan for an Engineering Research Center for ENgineered Solutions for rUral Resilience — ENSURE: Food, Energy, Environment, and Infrastructure. ENSURE will then seek to create sustainable rural communities through engineering innovations and in partnership with rural stakeholders.
Following completion of the planning grant year, the team intends to submit a full center proposal to the NSF. If successful, it will be the first such center in the state of Kansas and Kansas State University will be the lead institution on this effort to generate resilient, engineered systems in conjunction with rural stakeholders, creating sufficient capacity in rural communities — those across the U.S. and worldwide — to adapt and respond to adverse climate, environmental and economic conditions.
"Using this planning grant," Hutchinson said, "our team will develop a more complete vision of the rural landscape, including differences in and relationships between the social, political, human and cultural capitals in conjunction with natural, built and financial capitals.
"We will be looking at things such as improved energy distribution, wastewater treatment, data transfer and internet service, as well as helping new investors know where to go for expanded economic growth, all in an effort to return to and maintain thriving rural communities."