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External funding results multiplied through College’s Research Excellence Initiative

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

LAWRENCE — A grant initiative that funds faculty and student research collaborations in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences has helped attract more than $2 million in new external funding to the University of Kansas.

In its first year, the Research Excellence Initiative (REI) distributed $226,100 to faculty across the College in 2018, funding projects that included participation from 61 undergraduate and 51 graduate students. Researchers leveraged those funds as seed money to attract additional grants from federal and private organizations — at a return rate of $9 in external funding for every $1 provided.

This information was contained in a final report describing the outcomes of the 2018 REI awards.

“This initiative is a catalyst that gives students opportunities and provides researchers with resources to help their work be more competitive for funding at a national level,” said Joy Ward, associate dean for science research. “It is transformative in our ability to mentor and train students, it propels our ability to solve challenges in Kansas and the broader world around us, and it will help leverage our College and university as a whole to remain a top-notch research university.”

The success of this program has been made possible by donors to the College who have contributed to research endeavors that focus on student-faculty collaborations in scholarly activity. All funding for the Research Excellence Initiative comes from private giving, allowing the College to invest in research without sacrificing support for other critical areas.

“Every dollar generated in external returns by our faculty can be further used to educate students and generate new ideas that help society and Kansas. This is a strong collaborative effort that amplifies the generosity of our donors through the talent of our faculty,” Ward said.

Funds are provided through the Dean’s Research Excellence Fund, as well as several endowed funds established by alumni, friends and faculty, and managed through KU Endowment.

The Research Excellence Initiative conceptualizes research as both a process for making discoveries with far-reaching effects and as an experiential learning opportunity that prepares students for a variety of careers in academia, industry and government. Awards fund faculty and staff research projects while also supporting undergraduate and graduate students to participate side by side with leading scholars in research, scholarship and creative works.

More than six dozen projects were funded, ranging from multiple grants of $500 for travel and external reviews of grants and manuscripts to a $30,000 interdisciplinary award.

  • Katie Rhine, associate professor of geography and African & African-American studies, received $30,000 as the principal investigator for a collaborative project on health care in rural Africa. She has since leveraged that support with her team to receive $225,000 for a Sawyer Seminar Award from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
  • The second-largest grant, of $18,000, went to Mary Hill, professor of geology, for her research on ways to use renewable energy to treat water, produce fertilizer and support rural communities. This support helped her attract $1 million in funding from the National Science Foundation, part of that organization’s $2.5 million grant to a nationwide team of researchers working on the project.
  • An $8,600 grant went to Robert Hurst, associate professor of film & media studies, who is producing a documentary about diversity in Garden City. In part, the grant supported hiring an undergraduate student who researched immigration policy and provided other production assistance.
  • A $4,800 grant went to Christopher Cushing, assistant professor of clinical child psychology, who was assisted by five graduate students and five undergraduate students in designing a study and collecting data for research to better understand eating disorders and obesity in adolescent children.
  • A $5,500 grant was awarded to Dave Tell, professor of communication studies, for the “Emmett Till Memory Project,” which featured the development of an app to accurately preserve the history of Till’s murder during the civil rights movement. Tell has also made numerous presentations on Till’s importance to academic and community groups across Kansas and Mississippi.

The grants were distributed to a variety of faculty, staff and students across the College. Projects focused in the natural sciences received $73,940, social sciences received $72,850, humanities received $56,650, and the arts received $22,660.

The REI grants helped KU faculty and students attend and produce dozens of conferences, presentations, and exhibitions throughout the state of Kansas and across academia. The grants also supported the production of journal articles and book chapters.

The College is the heart of KU, educating the most students, producing the most research and collaborating with nearly every entity at KU. The College is home to more than 50 departments, programs and centers, as well as the School of the Arts, School of Languages, Literatures & Cultures and School of Public Affairs & Administration.