USM Center Receives National Science Foundation Grant of Nearly $800,000 to Boost High-Speed Networks in Underserved Areas of Maryland

MDREN Map

Grant Will Help USM Expand Network Infrastructure for College Researchers and STEM Educators

Baltimore, Md. (June 11, 2020) – A grant of nearly $800,000 from the National Science Foundation to the Maryland Research and Education Network (MDREN), an important technology service provider at the University System of Maryland (USM), will allow the USM to support the state by providing high-speed networking infrastructure to a number of underserved areas.

With funding of $799,767 from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Maryland Research and Education Network will significantly increase network bandwidth for several institutions that are in rural areas or would benefit from greater network capacity.

The institutions include Frostburg State University, Salisbury University, four research labs that are part of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Additional beneficiaries include the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center (part of the University of Maryland School of Medicine) and Morgan State University, a public university that is not part of the USM.

The proposal increases network bandwidth by a factor of 10 times and adds the high-speed computer subnetwork, optimized for science applications, for data transfers from other sites to enable the full potential of these institutions. These upgrades allow researchers at each institution to reliably connect to supercomputers and big data repositories, increase computational capabilities, and collaborate between institutions.

MDREN provides advanced network service to more than 40 education, research, and public service institutions throughout Maryland and connections to regional and national resources. MDREN is a pivotal partner in the work of the USM Office of Academic Affairs, particularly the work of the P-20 division in its partnerships with local school systems on the Pre-K through 12th grade level.

“The USM has a huge impact on Maryland. And that impact is amplified with System-led centers like MDREN,” USM Chancellor Jay A. Perman said. “The NSF award is a validation of its work– in this case, bringing high-speed networking capacity where it’s badly needed and finally erasing the disadvantages that institutions operating without it have had to bear.”

While primarily focused on increasing research capacity at the universities, the network expansion that NSF funds also will benefit USM’s Maryland Center for Computing Education (MCCE).  MCCE is charged with broadening participation in computing across all geographic regions of Maryland and increasing capacity, access, and participation of students and teachers in computer science and computational thinking.

“This grant is important because we have certain institutions that have serious limitations in accessing and transferring huge datasets among themselves and collaborators at federal agencies such as NASA and the National Institutes of Health,” said Ray Barghi, Executive Director of MDREN and principal investigator for this grant.

“I always say that MDREN is about the community—supporting the community in every way we can, using fiber and wireless technology to access places such as western Maryland, the Eastern Shore, and for the benefit of historically black colleges,” Barghi said.

USM Associate Vice Chancellor Nancy Shapiro, who is Special Assistant to the Chancellor for P-20 Education (students from pre-school through end of college), said the NSF award to MDREN “reflects societal transformation. If we don’t get people who are on the outside of this technological access involved, then we are missing the boat.

“Although the K-12 schools were not the primary focus of this grant, they will reap the benefits of what Ray Barghi is doing at MDREN.  The new NSF grant will continue to build out the infrastructure so we can have broader and more equitable participation for all students P-20,” Shapiro said.

The NSF request for proposals asked for a focus on establishing institutions’ science research and education needs and a discussion of how those translate to the need for greater connectedness and investment in network capacity.

MDREN provides advanced network services and connections up to 100 Gigabits per second to the Internet and the national research network Internet2, as well as major cloud service providers. MDREN members include 40+ institutions across Maryland, including USM members, other Maryland state universities, community colleges, and private institutions.

MDREN’s Barghi has extensive experience in the information technology (IT) and telecommunications industries. He has worked in leading information technology positions for global Fortune 100 companies, with responsibilities including mobile wireless, network transformation, cloud computing, and “big data” analytics. Barghi has served in a variety of C-level positions in multiple industries. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma, where he conducted research and served as a faculty member.

Contact: Mike Lurie
Phone: 301.445.2719
Email: mlurie@usmd.edu

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