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At $16.2 million, Office of Research surpasses 2019 strategic plan goal for external funding

By: Elisabeth Wall

BOONE—At the close of the 2016 fiscal year, Appalachian State University’s Office of Research (OR) reported receiving more than $16 million in external funding – grants from government, non-profit agencies, business and industry — which surpassed a goal set in the university’s 2014 – 2019 Strategic Plan to increase grant funding to $15 million by the year 2019.

2015-16 Annual Report for the Office of Student Research (OSR)

Major Accomplishments:

  • During 2015-16 OSR administered a total of 678 student research grant applications, which is a record for our office. Funded a total of 648 student grants (266 research and 382 travel) totaling $134,969. Of these 648 grants, 412 were for undergraduate research.
  • Of this $134,969 total, 52 percent ($69,678) was spent on research grants and 48 percent ($65,291) on travel grants. Of the total, 58 percent was spent on undergraduate research and 42 percent on graduate research.
  • Promoted Appalachian student visibility at the 30th National Conference on Undergraduate Research at UNC Asheville, April 7-9, 2016. (61 undergraduate students presented, top 3 participation out of the 16 UNC system universities). Students represented 25 different departments.
  • A total of 146 undergraduate Appalachian students representing 18 different departments made research presentations at the 10th Annual State of North Carolina Undergraduate Research and Creativity Symposium (SNCURCS) at High Point University Nov.14, 2015. Appalachian had the highest number of accepted abstracts out of the 16 UNC system universities.
  • A total of 173 abstracts submitted, 128 undergraduate and 45 graduate submissions, 87 faculty advisors representing 29 academic departments participated in our 19th Annual Celebration of Student Research and Creative Endeavors on April 21, 2016. In April 2017, we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of this event.
  • The Undergraduate Research Assistantship (URA) Program for the 2015-16 academic year went very well with OSR receiving 90 faculty URA applications for the 60 URA positions.
  • Facilitated the operational affiliation agreement with the Office of Student Research and the NSF-supported S-STEM, Academy of Science and Academy’s Summer Bridge programs.
  • Hosted the 7th annual student research poster competition at the Annual Celebration of Student Research and Creative Endeavors.

The plan mandated “advancing knowledge and addressing the challenges of our region, state and world through creativity and innovation.” Last year, the OR closed the fiscal year at $12.9 million.

Chancellor Sheri N. Everts said, “In addition to illustrating the priority our faculty have made of seeking grant funding, this substantial increase represents the high quality of research being conducted. Appalachian’s faculty are leaders within their fields and their stellar work has been recognized with funding awards. Not only does this funding advance their research, it strengthens the academic experience for the students they teach and benefits our community and state.”

According to Dr. Alan Utter, interim vice provost for research, funding increased 50 percent since 2014, from $10.9 million to $16.2 million in 2016. “The big payoff,” Utter said, “is that more faculty and students can participate in innovative research, service projects and creative endeavors across a number of disciplines.”

Utter credits “our faculty, first and foremost, for stepping up to the plate and submitting grants” for the significant increase. “That’s No. 1,” he said. “It takes time and dedication to plan these out and compete.”

But, he added, institutional changes were important factors as well. “First, the strategic decision to separate the Office of Research from the graduate school two years ago is giving a message to the faculty and staff that research and creative endeavors on our campus are important – important enough to have a dedicated office to that mission.”

Utter said other institutional factors that have impacted external funding success include:

  • a chancellor, provost, deans and department chairs who are committed to recruiting faculty with innovative ideas that can be funded;
  • actively recruiting faculty who are willing to mentor students in the art of research and make them part of their research goals, and who have the training and expertise to seek external funding, and
  • an Office of Research that is well staffed and prepared to help with budgets, reviews and compliance.

Furthermore, Utter said, there have been policy and programmatic changes that have put an emphasis on and given support to expanded research efforts:

  • a pilot Faculty Reassigned Time Program that allots approved faculty non-teaching time to write grants;
  • a travel grant program that allows faculty interested in applying for a federal grant, to meet, get guidance and develop relationships with federal grant program officers;
  • a newly established Office of Research Consultation, staffed by a faculty member who gives statistical guidance for grant content;
  • a grant proposal development program that focuses on all key elements of writing a successful grant, and
  • access to an outside consulting source for grants with the highest likelihood of being funded to provide expert content analysis and feedback before the grant is submitted.

As envisioned in the university’s strategic plan, external funding secured by faculty affiliated with the university’s two research institutes — Research Institute for Energy, Economics and the Environment and the Institute for Health and Human Services — will directly impact and create innovation solutions for local and state issues surrounding health, energy and the environment. “These institutes and the necessary funding from appropriate partners allow faculty members across colleges and multiple disciplines to focus on and address complex problems which ultimately benefit our state and the educational/research experience for our students,” Utter said.

View larger imageDr. Alan Utter

Of the seven institutions in the UNC system that do not offer doctoral programs, Appalachian generally ranks third or fourth in external funding, Utter said. He expects to be No. 1 or 2 by 2019.

Student research support

The bulk of the external funding is directed to faculty, Utter said, but the university has maintained an institutional Office of Student Research for the last 11 years.

The office has funded more than 4,700 students over that time period and Appalachian’s acceptance to the two main student research conferences – one in North Carolina and the other a national conference on undergraduate research – is usually first or second among the other UNC system institutions.

“Our faculty have stepped up to the plate,” Utter said. “They get them into the lab, into the field. It makes a huge difference in the numbers of students who matriculate into research and Ph.D. programs.”

About Appalachian

Appalachian State University, in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The transformational Appalachian experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and embrace diversity and difference. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina system, Appalachian enrolls about 18,000 students, has a low faculty-to-student ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.