OARnet awarded National Science Foundation grant to develop STEM training and research resources for higher education

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Oct 4, 2021) — 

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded OARnet a planning grant to develop a network of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) training and research resources for smaller higher education institutions in the state of Ohio.

In December 2020, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine allocated $12.1 million through the Governors Emergency Education Relief program to upgrade OARnet's last-mile internet connections to 40 colleges and universities.

To make best use of the upgraded internet capabilities, OARnet and partners will develop new STEM training and research resources, to be known as the Virtual Research-Education Ohio (VROhio) program, that can be shared among institutions. Colleges and universities are facing a growing need for secured cyberinfrastructure to support both in-person and remote STEM education.

“OARnet is grateful to the Ohio Department of Higher Education for identifying and supporting critical cyberinfrastructure needs,” said Pankaj Shah, executive director of OARnet and primary investigator on the NSF grant. “The National Science Foundation planning grant will help us create a solid foundation on which we can develop a full network of resources that will allow smaller colleges and universities to elevate their STEM education offerings, for the benefit of the state of Ohio.”

The Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC) and the Case Western Reserve University Electron Microscopy Facility are initial service providers on the project, which is also supported by national entities EPOC, The Quilt, InCommon/Internet2 and Trusted CI.

“OSC is excited to be participating in developing plans for the VROhio program,” said Douglas Johnson, associate director of the OSC. “OSC is a statewide facility that can be an excellent resource for both educational instruction and research at the partnering higher education institutions. The program will, in part, simplify access to supercomputing resources for STEM students from these institutions.”

Sudha Chakrapani, the Joseph T. Wearn, MD University Professor in Medicine and the director of the Cryo-Electron Microscopy Core at Case Western Reserve University, highlighted the benefits of the new partnership.

“We are excited to participate in OARnet’s proposal to develop a statewide research and teaching DMZ/VPN network infrastructure for secure and high-quality access to shared network accessible resources,” Chakrapani said. “Through this partnership, the Cryo Electron Microscopy (Cryo-EM) Core at the Case Western Reserve University will expose students at smaller educational institutions in Ohio to this Nobel Prize-winning, cutting-edge technology in structural biology. Through a combination of online lecture tutorials and virtual lab visits, the students will get a feel for the Cryo-EM technology and its application in molecular medicine.”

The higher education institutions involved with the project are Northwest State Community College, Chatfield College, Lorain County Community College, Terra State Community College, Franciscan University of Steubenville, Sinclair Community College, Columbus State Community College, Xavier University and Baldwin Wallace University.

The shared STEM resources will benefit Xavier University, which offers undergraduate research opportunities and courses in introductory computer programming and soon will provide courses in machine learning and high performance computing, said Jonathan Morris, an associate professor of physics involved with the OARnet project. Morris regularly uses the resources of the OSC for research and teaching, and the professor looks forward to enhanced internet connectivity.
“The OSC gives us computational infrastructure that is beyond the scope of resources available at an undergraduate institution like Xavier,” Morris said. “The expertise and infrastructure at the OSC, along with the ease of access, allows us to carry out research at a high level and offer new and exciting teaching opportunities.”

Initial work supported by the planning grant will allow OARnet and partners to pursue future funding opportunities.

About OARnet

Since 1987, OARnet has delivered technology-based solutions that reduce costs, increase productivity and improve customer service. As a division of the Ohio Department of Higher Education's Ohio Technology Consortium (OH-TECH), OARnet serves Ohio's education, health care, public broadcasting and government communities. Other members of the consortium include the Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC) and the Ohio Library and Information Network (OhioLINK).