Exploring Opportunities through the Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit (CESU)

When looking for avenues of support for your research, consider investigating a valuable resource available to the UWL campus community – the Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit (CESU). UWL is part of the Great Lakes-Northern Forest (GLNF) CESU, which is an extensive network of universities; federal agencies; and non-federal, non-university organizations dedicated to “conducting a program of research, technical assistance, and education that involves the biological, physical, social, and cultural sciences needed to address, manage, and preserve Great Lakes-Northern Forest ecosystems in a rapidly changing social, economic, and environmental landscape.” CESUs facilitate mutually beneficial collaborations between federal and academic partners; federal members provide funding support to academic researchers who in turn provide the expertise needed by federal partners across multiple academic disciplines.

Source: Great Lakes-Northern Forest CESU. Retrieved from http://www.cesu.umn.edu/

There are multiple regional CESUs throughout the nation (refer to the map above), and CESU partners (including UWL) can work with other CESU partners in any unit within the national CESU network. CESU partners in the GLNF unit include 32 universities; 10 non-university, non-federal organizations; and 9 federal agencies. A list of the GLNF CESU federal agency partners can be found on the following page as well as the CESU website. Examples of CESU-facilitated projects led by UW-L faculty include the Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center (in partnership with the US Geological Survey); a project to monitor and assess potentially toxic contaminants in six national parks in the Great Lakes Network (in partnership with the National Park Service); and a study of methylmercury exposure of songbirds in mercury-sensitive landscapes of Voyageurs National Park (in partnership with the National Park Service).

“CESUs provide research, technical assistance, and education to federal land management, environmental, and research agencies and their partners. The partners serve the biological, social, cultural, and engineering disciplines needed to address natural and cultural resource management issues at multiple scales and in an ecosystem context.” ~About the CESU Network

What advantages does CESU provide for individuals seeking project support?

  1. CESU serves as a framework to facilitate partnerships and form cooperative agreements to federally fund research. A cooperative agreement, which is a funding mechanism distinct from grants, arranges for funding through a mutual negotiation between partners who have identified a common area of interest and who collaborate on projects.
  2. CESU funding uses a reduced indirect/overhead cost rate of 17.5% of total direct costs.
  3. CESU projects provide excellent opportunities for UWL students to gain firsthand experience working on federal lands and waterways with career professionals in federal agencies.  In general, CESU partners place considerable value on student experience and training as one of the beneficial outcomes of CESU projects.

How do I get started, and what is the process for securing funding with a CESU federal partner?

  1. Identify CESU federal partner(s) whose missions, management, and priority informational needs overlap with your scholarly interests, expertise, and capabilities. Begin with the list of partners on the CESU website.
  2. Define potential topical areas where your expertise and capabilities could be applied to address the priority needs of the federal agency.
  3. Identify and work with agency representatives to identify potential areas of collaboration and to plan cooperative projects. The agency representative could be a manager of a national wildlife refuge; a manager or biologist at a national fish hatchery; or a manager of a national park, lakeshore, or monument. The federal partner identifies sources of funding for the project and works with the academic partner to plan the project.
  4. Secure funding, which may include submitting a competitive proposal, developing a work unit for the agency, or arranging for special appropriations, etc.
  5. Work with the agency’s CESU representative to develop a cooperative agreement and detailed scope of work that defines tasks, methods, roles and responsibilities, timetable, deliverables, and project budget.
  6. Submit the cooperative agreement for administrative approval at UWL. The agency CESU contact then submits the agreement to the agency’s designated administrative office for approval.



What are some best practices for working with CESU partners?

  1. Get connected: Develop key agency contacts with federal partners at the grassroots level. Also, make sure you are listed in the GLNF CESU expertise database, which can provide you with networking opportunities by increasing your visibility among potential partners.
  2. Do your homework: Become informed about the federal partner’s mission, priority information needs, and operations. Be sensitive to the agency’s institutional culture.
  3. Marketing: Highlight the full range of project outcomes valued by the partner.  For example, the National Park Service values the public good (resulting from student training, graduate research, and public education) as well as scholarly studies.
  4. Relevance: Work with the partner to identify the potential management implications of your results and potential management actions that could be taken.
  5. Responsiveness: Nurture, strengthen, and grow the partnership. Become a valued source of expertise and counsel for the agency.


Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Units National Network. (n.d.). “About the CESU Network.” Retrieved from http://www.cesu.psu.edu/about/about_cesu.htm

Great Lakes-Northern Forest CESU. (2017). Retrieved from http://www.cesu.umn.edu/