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Students in the field collecting water from the Little Thompson River

UNC Collaborates on Regional NSF-Funded Initiative on Climate Resilience

Up to $160 million available over the next 10 years to build climate-resilient communities in the Colorado-Wyoming region

Up to $160 million available over the next 10 years to build climate-resilient communities in the Colorado-Wyoming region 

The University of Northern Colorado is part of an exciting new groundbreaking collaborative initiative funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) that will drive climate resilience and sustainability across the Colorado-Wyoming region.   

The Colorado-Wyoming Climate Resilience Engine (CO-WY Engine) was recently named one of 10 inaugural NSF Regional Innovation Engine awardees. The collaborative network will receive up to $15 million for the next two years, with the potential to receive as much as $160 million over 10 years. Led by northern Colorado’s Innosphere Ventures, the leading incubation and commercialization program for launching science and high-tech startups, the CO-WY Engine is composed of 40 partners spanning industry, academia, government and community sectors. They are charged with developing innovative solutions that support communities to monitor, mitigate and adapt to climate impacts, positioning the collaborative at the forefront of the nation’s environmental and climate technology initiatives. 

“The CO-WY Engine represents an opportunity to integrate the meaningful scholarship addressing climate change and resiliency happening at UNC with work happening across the Front Range,” said Associate Vice President of Research and Dean of the Graduate School Jeri-Anne Lyons. “We're thrilled to be a part this important initiative that will have such  a powerful impact on our community, our students and the region.” 

UNC is one of six research universities on the project, which also includes Colorado State University, Colorado School of Mines, University of Colorado Boulder, University of Colorado Denver and Metropolitan State University of Denver. According to a press release from the CO-WY Engine, the grant will empower the partner universities to engage more profoundly in technology transfer and commercialization efforts by contributing to both academic knowledge and workforce development.  

As a university renowned for excellence in teaching that prepares and graduates more education professionals in the state of Colorado than any other university, UNC is well positioned to lean on that strength in their role on the CO-WY Engine.     

“This is an exciting opportunity to leverage the faculty expertise we have related to climate resilience in ways that support student learning and lead to essential workforce development,” said Chelsie Romulo, a Geography and Sustainability professor in UNC’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences. 

“We are looking forward to partnering with other research-intensive institutions and private organizations on projects that provide our students real hands-on experience and skills building for the type of jobs we will need to build a regional economy and community that is resilient to the impacts of a changing climate.” 

The NSF’s Regional Innovation Engine program is in in support of the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022. The bipartisan legislation was designed specifically to strengthen American manufacturing, supply chains and national security, and invest in research and development, science and technology and the workforce.   

“The CO-WY Engine will be instrumental in bringing technology-driven solutions to life, growing our two-state economy and reshaping our region's and nation’s ability to become more climate resilient,” said Mike Freeman, CEO of Innosphere Ventures and incoming CEO for the CO-WY Climate Resilience Engine.  

“In 10 years, the CO-WY Engine will generate significant economic impact for our region, including 22,000 new climate technology-related jobs, $1.5 billion in regional GDP impact, more than $1 billion in private capital formation, train or reskill more than 2,000 individuals and distribute $80 million in commercialization grants to startups in the climate technology sector.” 

One of the first steps of this new collaborative network will be to identify community needs, according to Romulo, who was one of the contributing writers on the grant along with Climatology Professor Cindy Shellito and Geography Professor Karen Barton. Although Lyons said that work on the Engine is just beginning and next steps are under discussion, there’s a potential that some of the work already underway at UNC related to climate resilience at the community level, on both a local and global scale, could help inform those needs. 

For example, this includes Shellito’s work with Community Collaboration and Learning for Climate Resilience (COOLER), a climate change learning network where faculty and students work on NSF-funded projects that focus on teaching climate change across the curriculum, student-led climate research and science communication and integrating cultural relevance into climate resiliency development.  

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Barton, who has spent her career working on community resilience and adaptation and global environmental change all over the world, is also involved with several ongoing projects. The recipient of nine Fulbright awards, she recently presented her U.S. State Department funded community climate research in a talk titled “Empowering Local Stakeholders Through Face-to-Face Climate Conversations and Citizen Engagement,” and last November, she began leading a series of Climate Conversation Pop-Ups in northern Colorado targeted to specific stakeholder groups. She also hosts a podcast titled Geographies of Hope and Resilience, focused on stories of  Coloradans who are taking the "someone has to do something" approach to life and narratives of people who are getting it right. 

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Other partners on the grant include Colorado Community College System and the Wyoming Community College Commission, Lockheed, NVIDIA, Palantir Technologies, Mars, Shell, Denver Water, Chevron, Trimble, The MITRE Corporation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Center for Atmospheric Research, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, National Institute of Standards and Technology, NSF's National Ecological Observatory Network, CO-LABS, Rockies Venture Club, Activate, CSU STRATA, Third Derivative,Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation, Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, Wyoming Business Council, City of Boulder, City of Fort Collins, City of Greeley, City of Denver, City of Cheyenne, Local Governments for Sustainability, Colorado Cleantech Industries Association, Denver Chamber of Commerce and Clean Air Task Force. 

More information about the CO-WY Engine can be found online at co-wyengine.org/. 

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