New cohort of NSF Navigating Home looks to continue capacity building in the region

The University of Guam Center for Island Sustainability and Sea Grant, in partnership with the National Science Foundation (NSF) INCLUDES SEAS Islands Alliance, has launched the second cohort of the NSF Navigating Home Early-Career Fellowship Program (Navigating Home) on Wednesday, June 26.  

The program, established in 2023, is designed to tackle the issue of brain drain by incentivizing the return of skilled STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) professionals to the island. 

Acting UOG President Randall Wiegand said the program fits the university’s mission of keeping local talent home. “It will help our people contribute to the green future that we are trying to develop. They will utilize their talent, skills, and abilities to ensure we have a sustainable way of living on the island,” he said. 

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. The 2020 US Census identified brain drain as a contributing factor to population decline in US territories like Guam, the US Virgin Islands (USVI), and Puerto Rico alongside climate change. 

At the launch event, the UOG Center for Island Sustainability and Sea Grant introduced the new Navigating Home fellows and their mentor agencies:  

·                     Robert Addy (MA in curriculum and instruction at Portland State University) – Bureau of Statistics and Plans  

·                     Serena Barasi (PhD student in ecology and evolutionary Biology (Forestry) at UC Santa Cruz) – Department of Agriculture – Forestry   Division  

·                     Andrea Odell (PhD student in ecology (fisheries) at UC Davis) – UOG Sea Grant 

At the event, the fellows also shared their thoughts about the program. Barasi, who graduated from UOG with degrees in chemistry and biology in 2021, said, “It has been a really interesting journey to come back to Guam to do some of the things that I want to do.”    

To address brain drain through the Navigating Home Program, the UOG Center for Island Sustainability and Sea Grant and its partners from Puerto Rico and the USVI received a $7.5 million grant from NSF to enable 68 fellows and 68 professionals with roots in the three territories to return home and contribute to the local workforce.  

Program participants must have advanced marine, environmental, or sustainability sciences degrees and may have left their home territories for educational or work purposes.  

Aside from the immediate plan to build the local STEM workforce, the program also carries a broader vision, according to UOG Center for Island Sustainability and Sea Grant Director Austin Shelton, PhD, the principal investigator of the program. “Why did we apply for this type of funding? The critical thing is that we want to create a sustainable future together. To do that, it’s going to take a lot of us.” 

Cheryl Sangueza, PhD, who serves as the program’s co-principal investigator, emphasized the significance of establishing a robust support network and fostering connections among the fellows and other participants. “Much of the NSF grants place students and our workforce fellows in positions of science research and in jobs in our government agencies. My role is to bring them together during near-peer sessions for cohort building where they can network among themselves,” said Sangueza.

For Navigating Home, UOG’s government agency partners include 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.  

Acting Governor Josh Tenorio, co-principal investigator of the program, said the partnership with these government agencies ensures fellows are embedded into the local workforce in positions that can contribute to addressing the challenges of a growing island community.     

“We have an economy that is expanding. We have a lot of progressive movements in sustainable development. And, of course, we need to have the best because we have a lot of challenges,” Tenorio said.  


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