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JSU and USM Awarded NSF Engines Development Award to Address Food Insecurity in Mississippi

Thu, 05/11/2023 - 01:30pm | By: Gabriela Shinskie

Jackson State University, in partnership with The University of Southern Mississippi (USM), received a $1 million National Science Foundation (NSF) Engines Development Award, “Advancing food security and climate resilience (MS).” The award period is for two years.

The vision of the award, referred to as the Sustainable Innovation Ecosystem (SIE) Food Industry Engine Development Award, is to develop an innovative ecosystem that: improves health and nutrition, reduces poverty, creates a diverse talent pool of skilled technical workers, and improves economic diversity and resilience across the targeted service region. Use-inspired research and development will address and be guided by the five dimensions of access to nutritious food: affordability, availability, accessibility, accommodation, and acceptability.

The goals will be focused on improving the resilience and health outcomes of all Mississippians by preparing stakeholders to assess, manage, and mitigate the complex and devastating realities of generational poverty and persistent food insecurity.

This award is part of a new initiative by the newly formed NSF Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP), known as the NSF Regional Innovation Engines program, designed to catalyze and foster innovation ecosystems across the United States through promoting robust partnerships, accountable leadership, regional economic impact, a culture of innovation, inclusion at all levels, and comprehensive workforce development.

Joseph A. Whittaker, Ph.D., Vice President for Research and Economic Development at Jackson State University, is the program director spearheading the development award.

“We are excited about this opportunity to mobilize key partners within the State of Mississippi and the region to leverage critical capabilities to address this grand challenge of long-term and pervasive food insecurity among some of the most vulnerable populations,” said Dr. Whittaker. “JSU and USM are well-positioned to apply significant knowledge capital and technical assets in finding sustainable solutions to food insecurity while enhancing workforce development opportunities.”

The NSF Engines program invited proposals to develop coalitions of academic institutions, non-profit organizations, for-profits, government entities, and others to create regional “innovation ecosystems” to galvanize use-inspired research, technology translation, and workforce development. The team is in the process of mobilizing strategic partners who are committed to the objectives of eliminating food insecurity and  driving economic impact.

Kelly Lucas, Ph.D., Vice President for Research at USM, will lead the University’s participation in the award.

Dr. Lucas said, “The funding offered through this engine development award will allow USM and JSU to continue our work supporting innovation, creating jobs and building opportunities in our state while addressing the critical need of supplying healthy, safe, sustainable food in changing environmental conditions.”

The collaborations and partnerships that led to the development of this project reflects the knowledge capital and collective expertise available in the State of Mississippi. This is important for fostering impactful strategies for the development of critical solutions for the state and the nation.

"Research and innovation are crucial for our nation's future, and Mississippi is poised to be a leader," said U.S. Sen. Roger F. Wicker (R-Miss.). "One important provision of the CHIPS and Science Act helps ensure that our universities can compete and make valuable contributions on the global stage. In November, we hosted NSF Day in Mississippi where we showcased our outstanding research capabilities. This latest round of research grants is a victory for both our state and our country, and it will enable Mississippi to maintain its position in developing cutting-edge technologies."

To learn more about the SIE Program award, please visit their website.

About Jackson State University: Challenging Minds, Changing Lives

Jackson State University, founded in 1877, is a historically black, high research activity university located in Jackson, the capital city of Mississippi. Jackson State’s nurturing academic environment challenges individuals to change lives through teaching, research and service. Officially designated as Mississippi’s Urban University, Jackson State continues to enhance the state, nation and world through comprehensive economic development, healthcare, technological and educational initiatives. The only public university in metropolitan Jackson, Jackson State is located near downtown, with five satellite locations throughout the area. For more information, visit or call 601-979-2121.