“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” This quote by Carl Sagan reminds us that what we don't know about the universe exceeds that which we do know. And the only way we will learn more is through scientific research.Lately the news has been full of stories that underline the importance of research. Whether it's how to monitor and safeguard our drinking water, understand the trajectory of a winter storm, or discover a new breakthrough in the treatment of a life-threatening disease, there are plenty of examples of why research matters.And that's why our leaders must continue to help support funding for research. It matters. The research done at our state's universities and colleges pays dividends in a number of ways. It's imperative we support these investigations and provide the funding to continue them.Research money is a tempting target as lawmakers deal with declining revenues and skimpy budgets. A couple of examples in our own state come immediately to mind.
The Research Challenge Fund, funded through video lottery proceeds, supports vital research by faculty members in our colleges and universities and offers their students the opportunity to experience STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in hands-on situations where learning is “sticky,” as well as challenging and fun.These are the programs that get students interested in careers in science, technology, engineering and math. These are the jobs that provide high-paying salaries in the industries of the future. And these are the skills that high-tech companies look for in a workforce when deciding where to locate. Even manufacturers are in need of workers who have backgrounds in STEM.
However, bills pending in the Legislature would reduce by 15 percent the lottery funds that go to the Research Challenge Fund. The cuts would do little to plug state budget holes, but would dramatically reduce what the fund is able to grant for research. In addition, the message -- that innovation and research are not important -- will have serious ramifications for how we view ourselves and how the world sees West Virginia.Investing in this knowledge economy is exactly what West Virginia should be doing to promote economic development, create future jobs for our young people and diversify and grow more business opportunities -- for now and for the future. Cutting the Research Challenge Fund would be a big step in the wrong direction.At the federal level, the president's budget reduces funding for the NASA Space Grant Consortium, another program designed to build research infrastructure and promote STEM education.In West Virginia, this program helps students launch satellites, attend space camp, intern at NASA, study helicopter and unmanned aerial vehicle flight, compete in the national Lunabotics Mining Competition, and more. Who knows? Maybe one of these students will discover something incredible!Making sure that more students at all levels learn about science and technology is critical for our state and national competitiveness. It's critical for our image. And it's critical for our future.Urge your representatives to fund research programs at the state and federal levels by opposing cuts in programs like the Research Challenge Fund and the NASA Space Grant Consortium.Barth is executive director of TechConnect West Virginia.