January 17, 2007

External funding for research shows dramatic rise

by External funding for research shows dramatic rise

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Research dollars spent at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, derived from external grants and contracts, increased by about 30 percent during the last fiscal year, reaching an all-time high and underscoring an effort at the University to solidify its place as a top research institution.

Overall, SIUC researchers spent $74.5 million on various research efforts during fiscal 2006, said John A. Koropchak, vice chancellor for research and dean of the graduate school at SIUC. The amount contrasts with the $57.4 million researchers spent the previous fiscal year.

Of the last fiscal year's total research expenditures, more than $20 million involved federal dollars, an 18 percent increase over the previous fiscal year's federal dollars total.

"The increase in research expenditures reflects the skill, effort and dedication of our faculty and staff," interim SIUC Chancellor John M. Dunn said.

Interim Provost Don S. Rice said the expenditures continue a positive trend for the University.

"Not only does the increase in external funding for artistic and scholarly initiatives speak positively of the excellence of our faculty, it attests to the quality of the education that students receive at Southern," Rice said. "We strive to hire and support faculty who are teaching scholars, individuals who are leaders in the arts and researchers of distinction, and who can bring the processes and products of their work to the classroom in meaningful ways. As support for research endeavors grows, so does the ability of faculty to involve undergraduate and graduate students in significant learning experiences, and that's what our University is all about."

Agriculture, education, engineering, liberal arts, medicine and science led the way in grant funding, Koropchak said, with the money coming from the state and federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and others.

Koropchak partly credited the University's decision several years ago to increase the number of tenured and tenure track faculty with increasing both the number of grant applications and the amounts of individual grant proposals. With the University hiring additional high-quality teacher-scholars, the amount of grant funding and research expenditures were destined to increase, he said.

"Our colleges and departments have not only hired more faculty — which helps us do a better job with all students — they've also done a great job getting excellent new faculty members who complement and energize the already excellent work done by our existing faculty," Koropchak said. "The cumulative effect is more and better teaching, and more research and more research funding. Every faculty member has part of their effort assigned to research, but most of that effort is assigned to teaching."

The increases mean students — graduate and undergraduate — get a better education at SIUC, Koropchak said. The University also emphasizes involving undergraduates in faculty research efforts, which provides the students a premium educational experience.

"Participating in research is essentially learning about problem-solving. Our students work with faculty to expand the world's body of knowledge. Doing research is the highest level of teaching and learning," Koropchak said.

"The quality of research at a university affects its reputation, and enhancing this probably is one reason for our recent selection as a Best Midwestern University by the Princeton Review," he said.

The latest expenditure figures — $74.5 million with about $20 million being federal dollars — are in marked contrast to those of only a few years ago, Koropchak said. For example, in 1999, those numbers were about $30 million and just $7.6 million, respectively.

In 2002, the University began a concerted effort to increase its annual research expenditures by 11 percent annually, which is about double the national average, Koropchak said. The University made steady progress each year since.

The increases reflect directly on faculty and researchers, who compete globally for precious resources from granting agencies.

"When they obtain grants our faculty are competing with the best in the world," he said. "That shows what they are doing is on the cutting edge."

The increased funding also has helped to address deferred maintenance problems by providing funds to replace antiquated equipment, Koropchak said, which reduces pressure on the University's operating budget. The University's Mass Spectrometer Facility, its Electron

Microscopy and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance facilities, along with its public radio and television stations are just a few beneficiaries of the successful grant writing, he said.

The increased research spending also has a direct impact on the Southern Illinois economy, Koropchak said. The money directly brings in more graduate students, who in turn buy their necessities from local businesses. Assistantships from research grants support more than 600 graduate students who otherwise would not be in Southern Illinois. The University also purchases many supplies and equipment within the region, he said, while the research itself promotes new products and long-standing industries, such as coal mining.

And the best may be yet to come.

"When you hire new faculty, they typically need a few years to develop their acumen and skills in research and teaching. Our faculty's peak times are still ahead of them," Koropchak said. "I expect to see growth in their success."