Morgan State University and the Johns Hopkins University are part of a group that has received a $95.8 million grant from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center to conduct Earth-based research on the atmosphere, oceans and planet surface.
Morgan's $28.5 million piece of the funding represents the largest grant in the university's history, and officials described it as a leap forward in national renown.
"My hope is that people who have not been paying attention to Morgan will wake up and realize that Baltimore has an institution that is really capable of being exceptional," said Morgan President David Wilson. "What the nation is basically saying with these types of grant is, 'Morgan, you're ready to grow up.'"
The U.S. can't realize its goals in science and technology research without producing more African-American graduates in those fields, Wilson said. Historically black institutions such as Morgan are vital to that mission, he added, and the NASA grant will create research and internship opportunities for scores of professors and students.
Shirley M. Malcom, a member of Morgan's Board of Regents, said she was "excited to see such a significant partnership and major investment in [a historically black university] with a strong base in science and engineering, especially given that these institutions contribute so much to diversifying the pool of science and engineering professionals."
Morgan professors and graduate students will use the grant money to study atmospheric chemistry, polar climate change and the effects of carbon on the planet's ecosystem, among other subjects.
Wilson hopes to double the university's research funding over the next decade, and he said the NASA grant is the type of socially conscious effort he wants to embrace.
"Morgan is committed to its graduates being strong, not just in the [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] fields but also in critical thinking and global awareness," said Wilson, who began his presidency last summer.
Earlier this year, President Barack Obama announced that Morgan would be part of a research team using a $129 million grant to improve energy efficiency in commercial, public and residential buildings around the country.
Between the two grants, Wilson said, Morgan is "well down the path to becoming one of the most exciting urban research institutions in the country."
Hopkins, a longtime force in the arena of space research, will contribute expert faculty advice in experimental robotics and atmospheric and oceanic research to the NASA-funded effort. The $3 million grant will also create opportunities for Hopkins students to work at Goddard in Greenbelt.
The grant team will be led by the Universities Space Research Association, a nonprofit that develops information and technology to be used by universities, space-related industries and NASA. The grant money will support research until 2016.