Members of the Guam Science and Technology Steering Committee continue to conceptualize a plan to augment the island’s STEM capacity and sustain various industries enabled by research.
During a meeting on Jan. 20, the members reaffirmed their objectives to serve as a center for collaborative regional and international research, increase STEM capabilities through education and workforce development, expand STEM infrastructure to support higher-level research and economic growth, utilize dynamic communication strategies to relay STEM knowledge, and cultivate a diversified economy.
The committee also recognized the following challenge areas across each of the objectives: biomedical professions and healthcare policy; information technology and cybersecurity; sustainability and quality of life issues relative to waste management, energy, agriculture, and protection of natural resources; biosciences and technology transfer; and opportunities with the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Beyond research ‘for its own sake’
The committee oversees Guam’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) Guam Ecosystems Collaboratorium for Corals and Oceans (GECCO), as well as the Guam NASA EPSCoR program.
“The responsibility of this committee is to try to understand what EPSCoR is about and help highlight how it could potentially affect the economy. At the same time, it feeds back to the scientist and gets them to look at the world a little bit differently other than research for its own sake. How do we identify industries and how do we identify talent? What are some real-life opportunities?” said Dr. Robert Underwood, committee vice chairperson and President Emeritus of the University of Guam (UOG).
“Moving their activities to some of the concerns we have here, that’s the point at which we meet,” he added.
Diversifying Guam’s economy through jobs
Committee co-chairperson and Guam Economic Development Authority chief executive officer, Melanie Mendiola, presented models to help accomplish a diversified economy with jobs through small and large businesses in multiple industries based on researchers’ findings.
The models established processes stemming from industry selection to government policy development and incentives, access to capital, and establishing jobs through business development, to include a process for stakeholder assemblies to identify current issues, UOG receiving funding to research those issues, and scientists then presenting the research and developing proofs of concept alongside entrepreneurs to market products, build businesses, increasing job availability.
Mendiola and Dr. Austin Shelton, UOG Center for Island Sustainability and Sea Grant director, discussed recent products created using the invasive chain of love vine (Antigonon leptopus), such as bath bombs, fabric dye, and foods.
“We need to find entrepreneurs willing to take the leap, have access to capital, and turn the chain of love into the next thing,” said Mendiola.
“We want industries that have higher paying jobs, something that jives with Guam’s comparative advantage, something sustainable, environmentally, and something that’s culturally sensitive. Where can we assign processes to these, who can contribute, and how do these processes overlap with existing initiatives?” she continued.
Sustainability in interested, committed population
Underwood and Roderick Boss, committee co-chairperson and Docomo Pacific president, emphasized the need to plan with sustainability in mind. They explained the idea of forming interest, quality researchers, and capacity through the educational enterprise, beginning at the elementary level and being refined during years beyond.
“The base of the pyramid has to be wider than what we think of it right now,” said Underwood. “None of this will actually amount to a whole lot because that sustainability is not the economic activity in and of itself. I think the sustainability is in who’s working at it and who is committed to it. Where do they come from, and how rooted are they in the community?”
“The University of Guam is certainly available for helping to do this,” said Dr. Thomas Krise, UOG president. The idea of a workable example is very important just to help inspire people’s imaginations.”
Guam EPSCoR is funded by the National Science Foundation.