NSF Supports Proposal for Community-Harvey Mudd Connection

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded Harvey Mudd College a CIVIC Innovation Challenge research grant.

“The goal of the CIVIC Innovation Challenge is to connect higher ed institutions with community partners to get solutions into the real world,” says computer science professor and grant co-principal investigator Julie Medero. “The planning grant supports the collaboration needed to get those proposals written.”

This project came about from discussions Medero and Zach Dodds, Leonhard-Johnson-Rae Professor of Computer Science, were having with local nonprofit organizations to find ways to offer more community-engaged projects for the College’s Clinic Program. “This is an unusual grant in that it’s a small planning grant, with the target outcome being another grant proposal,” says Medero, who researches natural language processing, machine learning and educational applications of language technology. In 2017, Medero and Dodds received an NSF grant for the continuation of the Research Experiences for Undergraduates site in computer science, supporting a variety of research projects in the Computer Science Department.

Medero is collaborating with co-PI Tobias Hecht and Devon Hartman (both of CHERP Locally Grown Power), along with a small team of independent study students, to prepare a proposal that addresses two problems. The first is the lack of resilience hubs and cooling centers in an economically disadvantaged community threatened by earthquakes, heat waves, public power shut-offs and, now, a pandemic. The second problem they wish to study is learning why that same community has not benefited directly from advances in renewable energy.

“We propose a solution that addresses both of these challenges with a single project,” Medero says. That proposal, if approved, will provide funding to install solar power at several community sites in Pomona, California, with the resulting financial incentives supporting a program to help low-income households in the same community move to renewable sources for their power.

“Our hope is that if we get the next grant, it will include support for one or more Clinic teams to work with CHERP on the implementation of the resilience centers and/or on analysis of how well the setup works,” Medero says.

NSF grants are the largest share of external support for faculty research at Harvey Mudd College.