WMU News

$3 million to 'jump start' WMU research in federal funding hunt

April 9, 1998

KALAMAZOO -- By funneling $3 million into promising areas of research at Western Michigan University, administration officials expect to provide a jump-start that will put the University on the road to more federal funding and a new research classification.

Areas of strong existing research in each of four colleges as well as one long-established major research center have been identified to receive the University funding. The goal is to have each of those areas generate substantial increases in federal funding in the next two to three years.

"The idea is to take the best we have and make it even better," says Dr. Donald E. Thompson, vice president for research. "We think we have some exceptionally good people who, given the opportunity, will be able to generate even better work. The funding is intended to provide what researchers in those areas say it will take to make them the best -- another set of hands, more time in the lab or better equipment."

Areas targeted for support include: initiatives in mathematics reform and science education and a new Center for Environmental Research in the College of Arts and Sciences; school reform and educational technology initiatives in the College of Education; the Center for Non-Wood Fibers in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences; a Rehabilitation/Intervention Science and Professional Preparation project in the College of Health and Human Services; and the Evaluation Center, a nationally recognized research center administered under the auspices of the Office of the Vice President for Research.

The idea for the jump-start funding grew out of a series of meetings last year between WMU President Diether H. Haenicke, Provost Timothy Light and Thompson. Proposals from across the University were submitted for consideration. After defining the areas with the most promise and discussing the possibilities with college deans, the funding was awarded.

"We set out to identify the areas we feel are capable of generating more federal research dollars for the institution as well as those proposals that fostered interdisciplinary work among departments, among colleges and with other institutions," Thompson says. "These are areas in which we think we can position the University to play a leadership role."

A boost in federal research dollars also is necessary to pursue one of the University's goals -- a change in its classification from Doctoral I to Research II. Such a designation by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching would require that the University pass the $15.5 million threshold in annual federal funding. Current federal funding to the University is in the range of $12 to $13 million a year.

Areas targeted for jump-start funding will use the money in a variety of ways to bolster research impact. The colleges involved have all opted to hire additional research specialists in their fields. Additional strategies include faculty monetary incentives for development of research proposals and investments in equipment or additional space.

In the College of Arts and Sciences, the new Center of Environmental Research will focus on interdisciplinary research using the talents of researchers in such fields as biological sciences, chemistry, geography, geology, environmental studies and mathematics and statistics. A new center director and associate director will coordinate research projects on environmental concerns important to the region as well as broader global environmental issues. Such issues will include Great Lakes research, land use planning, lakeshore erosion and investigation of federal Superfund sites. The center will be located in the University's new Haenicke Hall, which is now under construction.

In the field of science studies and science education, the funding will allow the hiring of a research grant coordinator who can assist researchers as they develop funding proposals to address the broad range of science education needs at all grade levels. The well-established mathematics reform area of the college will use jump-start funding to provide additional teaching faculty so that WMU's network of mathematics education specialists can focus more of their time on grant development.

The College of Education will direct its efforts toward school reform and educational technology issues, which are two research areas housed in the Merze Tate Center for Research on School Reform. The funding will allow the college to hire a senior research associate for each area as well as provide support personnel. Among school reform issues that will be the subject of study are rural education, recruitment of minority educators, early childhood education and the education of individuals with special needs.

The technology focus, which is closely aligned with school reform issues, will center on information technology and putting the college's resources to work to increase schools' access to technology. The goal will be to help prepare teachers and their students for the technology needs of the next century.

In the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the Center for Non-Wood Fibers is being set up in the Department of Paper and Printing Science and Engineering. The center will explore the use of plants other than trees to alleviate the impact of a wood fiber crisis that is projected to occur in the next 10 to 20 years. The center will be located in McCracken Hall and will research the use of such materials as corn stalks, rice straw, hemp and banana leaves to either make new paper products or to add strength to recycled wood fiber being used for such products. The jump-start funding will be used to set up the center's physical site, to fund a new research position and to begin making contacts with government funding sources.

The College of Health and Human Services will center its efforts on research and professional training proposals in such highly acclaimed specialties as blind rehabilitation and speech pathology and audiology. It also will provide support for faculty across the college to pursue research initiatives in child and adult communication practices, occupational therapy's use in schools, services to elder Americans and child abuse and neglect prevention.

The funding has been put toward hiring a full-time faculty researcher who has a background in blind rehabilitation work. He will assist other faculty members with research proposals as well as develop proposals of his own in such fields as adaptive technology and outcome measures. Equipment acquisitions, assistance in proposal development and providing faculty with additional time to devote to research are among the other ways the college will use the funds to boost research efforts.

The Evaluation Center, which already has earned international recognition for its work in helping organizations document the worth of what they do, will use its jump-start funds to add a senior staff position. The new principal research associate will be responsible for generating new grants and contracts, manage field research for a variety of evaluation projects and develop long-range plans that will lead to steady growth in grants and contracts. The center, now in its 25th year of existence, has an international reputation in the fields of school, program and personnel evaluation.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland; cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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