October 14, 2004

SIUC's research efforts on fast track

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. - - Southern Illinois University Carbondale is well on its way to becoming one of the country's top 75 public research universities by 2019, SIUC Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Dean John A. Koropchak told the SIU Board of Trustees today (Oct. 14).

Koropchak used his "state of the state of research at SIUC" presentation to update the board on progress made in achieving the research goal of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019. It also served to introduce newer board members to the only research university in the state's southern half.

The National Science Foundation recently ranked SIUC as 100th out of 150 public universities in total research and development expenditures, Koropchak told the board.

"This is an important measure of research competitiveness and an important target," Koropchak said.

"We had a period of decline from 1985 to 1999, but that has been reversed, and we are moving in the right direction."

Both the dollar value of outside grants and contracts awarded and the sums SIUC researchers are asking for have gone up, too.

"Awards precede expenditures, and proposals precede awards - - these will all translate into expenditures (and a boost in NSF rankings) down the road," Koropchak said.

Last year alone, the bustle of research and creative activity produced 957 manuscripts, 75 books and 199 book chapters; led to 290 productions and 49 exhibitions; and was shared through more than 1,800 lectures delivered internationally, across the country and around the state.

While research is both the heartbeat and life's blood of major universities, those outside the academic setting often don't get what the fuss is all about. "People understand teaching, but the research part is more nebulous," Koropchak said.

"Up until very recently, the average person who got a college degree, particularly at the undergraduate level, didn't have any exposure to research." With research, everyone's a winner - - students, institution and the surrounding region.

Students learn about new discoveries either by working hands on with research professors or in classrooms where this knowledge is shared before it ever hits print.

For example, those who assist SIUC microbiologist Michael T. Madigan, an internationally recognized scholar with an ongoing National Science Foundation research project in Antarctica, come away believing that "the sky is the limit for them later on," Koropchak said. "That's the kind of experience we want for our students - - the feeling that they can accomplish anything."

Madigan's research bolsters his teaching.

"He's co-written a textbook that's now in its 10th edition, and that textbook was one factor in his winning a national undergraduate teaching award from the American Society of Microbiology," Koropchak said.

SIUC benefits from an active research program as well.

"The portion of our budget coming from the state is declining (it went from 56.4 percent in 1978 to 39.5 percent last year), while the amount we get from tuition and fees is fairly constant (15.6 percent in '78, 16.5 percent last year)," Koropchak noted.

"The area that's significantly growing is grants and contracts (from 6.1 percent in 1978 up to 17.3 percent last year). In some cases, that can make up for the loss from the state."

In some cases, it also can aid creative cost-sharing. Last year, for example, SIUC and Memorial Hospital of Carbondale went together to upgrade the hospital's MRI equipment so that doctors and SIUC researchers could use it in new ways.

"We saved millions of dollars (by not having to buy new equipment), part of which we were then able to spend to bring Reza Habib (a psychologist interested in neuroscience) and others to campus, while providing a cutting-edge experience for our students and functional MRI capability to the region," Koropchak said. SIUC research activity also has a direct economic impact on the region - - last year it came to $120 million resulting from $65 million in grants - - as it spins off new jobs, spending and taxes generated by the companies that spring up to take advantage of research results.

Jackson County's Knight Hawk Coal Co., for example, has drawn upon technology developed by SIUC engineer Manoj K. Mohanty to enhance coal cleaning and reduce waste discharge.

"This should make their mining more cost effective and the company therefore more likely to survive," Koropchak said.

Knighthawk President Steve Carter along with Habib, Madigan and other guests with SIUC research connections attended the board presentation, which also featured an array of posters depicting undergraduate research projects.