UOG launches program addressing brain drain

The University of Guam Center for Island Sustainability and Sea Grant is launching the 2023 National Science Foundation Navigating Home Early-Career Fellowship Program, taking steps to combat brain drain and its impact on the island’s development.

Brain drain occurs when highly skilled and educated individuals seek better opportunities elsewhere due to economic challenges and limited professional growth prospects in their home state or territory. Alongside climate change, brain drain has been identified as a contributing factor to population decline in US territories like Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), and Puerto Rico, according to the 2020 US Census.

In response to this pressing challenge in the territories, UOG CIS and Sea Grant and partners in USVI and Puerto Rico launched the capacity-building program designed to create a pipeline for training and recruiting individuals with for individuals with advanced degrees in marine, environmental, or sustainability sciences who may have left for educational or work opportunities. The primary aim is to entice them back to Guam, where they can contribute their expertise to the local workforce.

Austin Shelton, PhD, Director of the UOG Center for Island Sustainability and Sea Grant stated the program’s purpose, “We’re empowering our future, one homecoming at a time. Our capacity building program is unlocking the potential of our students and reversing the brain drain, bringing them back home to Guam where they will lead the way towards a prosperous future.”

Thanks to the National Science Foundation’s $7.5 million funding, the five-year program will provide opportunities to 68 fellows and 68 professionals from Guam, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. $2.17 Million of the funding will come directly to the University of Guam. Navigating Home participants will collaborate with universities, non-profits, government agencies, and community organizations within their respective territorial program hub. Young professionals can apply for early-career fellowships at UOG or in local government agencies. They will receive a $45,000 annual salary and airfare to come home to Guam.

Morgan Leon Guerrero, a current NSF INCLUDES workforce fellow, participated in a pilot Navigating Home program in 2022. Assigned to work with the Guam Energy Office on energy transition grants, she left Guam to pursue a master’s in sustainability solutions at Arizona State University.

Leon Guerrero expressed her desire to return and make a positive impact: “Leaving the island was necessary for my master’s program, but it’s always in the back of my mind coming back and doing something for the island and really giving back.”

During the launch event, UOG Senior Vice President and President-elect Anita Borja Enriquez, PhD, highlighted the significant outflow of talent as many UOG graduates seek education and career opportunities abroad. By adopting the Navigating Home program, she believes the island can attract, retain, and empower individuals to improve the quality of life in Guam.

“As we think of those students, those graduates who call Guam home, who don’t want to leave and who are looking for opportunities, I think this is a beautiful model that we can replicate across other sectors — the social sciences, health care, education, and so forth,” Borja Enriquez said.

Forming partnerships with key stakeholders in government, non-profit organizations, the private sector, and other entities will play a crucial role in keeping essential capacity on the island and fostering social responsibility and progress, added Dr. Borja-Enriquez.

Several government agencies have already joined as program partners, including Guam Energy Office, Guam Environmental Protection Agency, Bureau of Statistics and Plans, Guam Coastal Management Program, Guam Department of Agriculture, and Guam Department of Administration.

The fellowship period is scheduled from August 2023 to July 2024, and applications for the current program cohort are now open. Interested individuals can access the application form through this link: https://rb.gy/fn0wi.
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