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NMSU environmental program receives endowment

WERC: A Consortium for Environmental Education and Technology Development is the beneficiary of a $4 million endowment from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The endowment, which was announced today at New Mexico State University by U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, will provide ongoing support to the program.

With NMSU President Michael Martin by his side, U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici holds a proclamation signifying the receipt of a $4 million endowment from the U.S. Department of Energy. The endowment will provide continuing support for WERC: A Consortium for Environmental Education and Technology Development. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

The $4 million will be invested by the NMSU Foundation and income generated from it will be used by WERC.

The WERC consortium consists of New Mexico State University (administered through the College of Engineering), the University of New Mexico, the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Diné College, Sandia National Laboratories and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The consortium was established through Domenici's efforts in 1990 and has received annual funding from the DOE to develop environmental expertise in the work force and identify new and cost-effective technologies to address environmental and human-health-related issues. The program encompasses education programs, public outreach and technology development and deployment. Among its priorities are pollution prevention, energy and environmental sustainability, water quality and conservation, nuclear waste management, bio-medical waste management and food contamination safety.

"I am proud of the accomplishments of WERC over the last 17 years," said Domenici, the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "The program has done a good job educating students and teachers about environmental, human health, and energy issues. There is no doubt that we will need to rely on future generations for solutions to these tough problems. I'm happy to be at NMSU today to announce this $4 million DOE endowment, which will help secure WERC's future."

Since its inception, WERC has funded approximately 160 environmental technology development projects at its partner institutions that impact businesses and communities throughout the state. Central to this program is the involvement of students in research; more than 375 students have been employed on campus to assist in various environmental research projects and more than 500 students have earned a minor in environmental management.

More than 40,000 K-12 students have participated in WERC-sponsored programs providing environmental education throughout New Mexico, Texas and Juárez, Mexico.

WERC has trained hundreds of teachers how to incorporate environmental education in their classrooms. It provides professional development and assistance to businesses in pollution prevention, arsenic removal from water and other environmental issues.

The WERC Environmental Design Contest, now in its 17th year, has brought students from around the world to compete on developing technologies that address environmental problems. Nearly 4,000 students have participated in the contest from 72 U.S. universities, 10 international universities and 28 high schools.

WERC was joined this past spring by the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring Center (CEMRC) in Carlsbad and the Southwest Technology Development Institute (SWTDI) at NMSU to form the Institute for Energy and the Environment (IEE) within the College of Engineering. Directed by Abbas Ghassemi, the IEE combines strengths and expertise in environmental science, energy and nuclear waste-management and monitoring to address critical needs throughout the state and region.

"WERC has established itself as a leader in addressing environmental challenges over the years," said NMSU Dean of Engineering Steven Castillo. "Now, WERC under the leadership of IEE will be a focal point for NMSU faculty from disparate disciplines to solve difficult technical problems and support the production of world-class engineers in these important areas."

The WERC program is one of the most successful partnerships of its kind in the nation and the establishment of the WERC endowment will ensure that resources continue to be available to address critical environmental needs throughout the state.