Logan Jensen, then an astronomy student and junior at the University of Wyoming, looks up at a telescope at the Red Buttes Observatory in December 2016. Phase II of the UW Science Initiative called for a “next-generation” telescope to be constructed, but there’s currently uncertainty about whether Phase II will ever happen.

The University of Wyoming is likely to pitch for an increase in 2021-2022 biennial funding for the Science Initiative.

The Legislature gave the program $2.3 million for the current biennium. If the Science Initiative is to achieve the goals set out by the 2014 report created by former Gov. Matt Mead’s task force, Science Initiative Program Coordinator Greg Brown said the biennial funding should increase to $7.7 million in 2021-2022 and then to $10 million for 2023-2024.

The need for more funding for the Science Initiative before its namesake building opens in 2021 was a significant part of the discussions during this week’s budget hearings with four members of the board of trustees.

“It would be disappointing if the Science Initiative building was completed and we weren’t able to fully ramp up with a full schedule of programmatic use for that facility, so that’s why we really need to map this out and make the request,” Trustee John McKinley said on Monday.

Brown, who’s a botany professor and associate dean of Arts & Sciences, said the $2.3 million given to the Science Initiative has been used to “halfway implement” the Wyoming Research Scholars Program and the Learning Actively Mentoring Program.

The research scholars program pays undergraduates, even freshmen, to participate in research with the goal of increasing the level of research experience for UW graduates.

The LAMP program aims to train faculty on increasing the amount of hands-on learning that happens at UW.

As programs like LAMP and the WRSP have scaled up, Brown said an “assessment coordinator” needed to be hired to evaluate the efficacy of Science Initiative programs.

Regarding LAMP and WRSP, “that preliminary data is very positive,” Brown told the trustees.

The LAMP program is also “evolving in ways that nobody could have predicted,” Brown said, including work in K-12 schools.

He said he had expected LAMP programming to eventually “bleed into community colleges” but assumed WRSP work would only involve on-campus work.

“One thing that I did not anticipate and I know is becoming quite popular out in the state is a collaboration between the LAMP program and the Wyoming Research Scholars program. We call this the Science Roadshow,” Brown said. “One of the requirements for the students in the research program is that we expect them to do outreach in the state. This is oftentimes going out to their home school district to help deliver hands-on science education. It’s mostly in middle schools and high schools, but we’ve gone down into elementary schools as well. As of this year, we’ve impacted almost 2,300 students in 10 of the 23 counties in Wyoming.”

During the 2019 legislative session, the Science Initiative was given another $1 million in one-time funding for the current fiscal year.

Almost all of that funding has been used to provide seed funding for 13 grant proposals.

If all of those projects were funded, Brown said there would be a roughly “30 to 1 return” on the state’s investment.

The original 2014 task force report suggested that the Science Initiative’s funding should be $5.41 million by the 2017 fiscal year.

The original task force also outlined a vision for a second phase of the Science Initiative which would build a “next-generation” telescope and renovate numerous other UW property used by faculty.

Brown’s suggestion on funding requests doesn’t include money for those projects.

“We don’t know if Phase II of the Science Initiative will become reality in the future,” Brown said.

During budget hearings this week, administrators and faculty presented trustees with tens of millions of dollars in funding proposals for the 2020 budget session.

McKinley asked administration to, in the next two months, whittle those proposals down to a reasonable figure that can be pitched to the Legislature.

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