Almost a month after the inauguration of President Donald Trump, his administration has pushed to transform government policies, laws and budgets. In a recent decision from the administration, Trump ordered for the freeze of all grants and contracts by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), leaving currently funded researchers in limbo.
As the EPA awards up to $4 million a year in grants for nonprofits and research facilities nationwide, recent recipients are facing a complex problem.
Kelly Cobb, an assistant professor in the Fashion and Apparel Studies Department, is the university’s most recent recipient of an EPA grant. As a winner of the P3 Grant Award, Cobb was awarded $14,999 to pursue her research in reducing waste in apparel development. The P3 Grant, which stands for People, Prosperity and the Planet stands to recognize projects that design sustainable solutions to environmental problems.
This was Cobb’s first federal grant, and she said she felt “elated” when she received the award, but was dumbfounded when she heard the news.
“I don’t know what the future holds, it’s changing day-to-day,” Cobb said. “Things that we thought were solid aren’t solid.”
Developed to create a more sustainable product development stage, Cobb’s research proposed the creation of a 3D-virtual prototyping technology to increase efficiently and decrease textile waste.
“Everybody wears clothes, even if you do not consider yourself a fashionista, as a wearer of clothing you are impacting the environment with the clothes you are wearing,” Cobb said.
Cobb integrates the lessons of her research in and out of the classroom. As a professor, Cobb sees her students as the “generation of change” with a great deal of “consumer power.” By creating tangible experiences for her students, she believes these experiences, combined with research, are essential for “student livelihood.”
“Once people realize that they are affected by something, they are more willing to take action to make changes and speak up and be vocal and incite change,” Cobb said.
Jillian Silverman, a 2016 graduate and current graduate student in fashion and apparel studies, is a prime example of this effect. Silverman, who worked with Cobb during her undergraduate years, is now pursuing textile sustainability for her graduate research. Although Silverman is not personally funded by the EPA, she said she feels the “frustration” of affected researchers.
“As a supporter of sustainability as a whole too, as well as furthering science and research within fashion, the new administration’s decisions make me nervous for the future of science and the environment,” said Silverman.
While Cobb agrees about the “dark days ahead,” she said the move to freeze grants will not stop her research.
“I’m still going to move forward in my second-phase grant and re-apply for more grants,” Cobb said. “We are sending in a grant to the EPA for next year. I cannot stop! I am educating myself on the issues and will use my voice and actions to foster change.”