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Research Excellence Initiative provides $580,000 to support College researchers

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

LAWRENCE — Faculty and student research across the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at the University of Kansas received a $580,000 boost from the 2018-2019 Research Excellence Initiative awards.

The Research Excellence Initiative supports faculty and staff research projects while also allowing researchers to include undergraduate and graduate students in their projects. The 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.

“The Research Excellence Initiative is such a critical program for the success of our faculty and the impact of their work, and in enhancing the educational experiences for our students,” said Clarence Lang, interim dean of the College. “By supporting research in the College, we are supporting the overall research mission at KU.”

Research Excellence Initiative funding is awarded through two programs: competitive awards and Accelerator Awards.

The College awarded about $220,000 for 2018-2019 through the competitive awards process. This mechanism offered funding to support discipline-specific and collaborative research projects, research equipment, travel to research sites and conferences, course releases to enhance research productivity with student mentoring, grant-writing support, bridge and seed funding to enhance external grant success, and a host of other resources to enable research excellence for faculty, staff and students.

Accelerator Awards are donor-designated funds that support specific research projects that align with the direct interests of donors. Two research projects received a total of $360,000 through the Accelerator Awards mechanism this year:

  • Lena Hileman, professor of ecology & evolutionary biology, to determine the genetic adaptations of flowers to support pollinators
  • Kelsie Forbush, associate professor of psychology, to better understand eating disorders

The Research Excellence Initiative awards provide a crucial line of support for researchers to develop projects and enhance their potential to attract external funding, such as federal and foundation grants. A nine-month preliminary report of projects funded in the 2017-2018 cycle can be viewed online. The report highlights outcomes of the Research Excellence Initiative, including external funding, student participation in projects, sponsored conferences, symposia and presentations, and impacts on Kansas.

In the first nine months since Research Excellence Initiative funds were awarded for 2017-2018, projects have attracted external funding from organizations including the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, National Science Foundation, American Philosophical Society and U.S. Department of Education.

Most notable among those results is a collaborative project on health care in rural Africa that was funded last year with a $30,000 award from the Research Excellence Initiative to Katie Rhine, associate professor of anthropology, as the principal investigator. She has since leveraged that support with her team to receive $225,000 for a Sawyer Seminar Award from the Mellon Foundation to explore new ways of thinking about the historical, social and political processes that have given rise to disproportionately high rates of chronic diseases among Africans, African immigrants and African-Americans.

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

“The Research Excellence Initiative would not be possible without the generosity of numerous donors who support our comprehensive mission of research. They are making a tremendous impact in our efforts to invest in research that has the potential to enhance career trajectories for our students and make a difference in our understanding of communities locally and globally,” Lang said.

Applicants for the competitive awards were asked to articulate research objectives with emphasis on how their work would support student participation, learning and networking. Additional resources were awarded to increase active participation of undergraduate students in the process of conducting authentic research alongside faculty and staff mentors.

Applications were reviewed by a panel of peer faculty and staff who have expertise across the social and natural sciences, arts and humanities.

The College will open the call for proposals each fall with awards to be made during the spring semester, with additional opportunities in open calls throughout the academic year. The Research Excellence Initiative is led by the College’s associate deans for research, Professors Tamara Falicov and Joy Ward, and administrative associate for research, Tabatha Gabay.

Funds for the Research Excellence Initiative are managed by KU Endowment, the independent nonprofit foundation serving as the official fundraising and fund-management organization for KU. Founded in 1891, KU Endowment was the first foundation of its kind at a U.S. public university.

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.