By Brotherton, Phaedra
Black Issues in Higher Education , Vol. 20, No. 6
For researchers, getting a single grant or award of at least $1 million takes skill and dedication, not to mention commitment to the university, students and to scholarship, says JoVita Wells, associate director of the Office of Sponsored Research at Tennessee State University in Nashville.
Tennessee State earlier this year honored 14 individuals who had been granted a single award of $1 million or more by a federal agency during a special three-day event called the Annual University Wide Research Symposium, marking 25 years of "research engagement" (see Black Issues, April 10).
"That level of funding to so many researchers at TSU is so significant because of the history of research funding in America, and the role of faculty at HBCUs," Wells says, pointing out that historically Black colleges and universities were not created to be research institutions and therefore face special challenges. "Faculty workloads are heavy, and it's difficult to attract young faculty."
TSU has met this challenge head on by developing partnerships and collaborations with other colleges and universities, as well as government agencies and the private sector.
TSU collaborations and partnership opportunities have increased over the years -- particularly over the last 10 years.
"We were (already) engaged in innovative and excellence research," Wells says. "Our principal investigators were obtaining grants, publishing, making presentations and our institutional research profile had been enhanced."
When Wells arrived in 1992, she says she found individuals in the Centers of Excellence, the College of Engineering, Technology and Computer Science, and the biological sciences "who felt TSU researchers were as skilled as any in the country and that if there were opportunities for `true collaborations and partnership' with adequate funding and compatible and complementary research interests we would collaborate or partner," Wells says.
One example of a successful collaboration in the College of Engineering is the Strategic Manpower Development project, under Dr. Decatur B. Rogers, dean of the College of Engineering. The program aims to increase the pipeline of African American doctorates in engineering, technology and computer science by exposing them to research throughout their education, beginning in kindergarten through postgraduate education. Partners and funders include NASA, Office of Naval Research, General Motors, Boeing, Raytheon, Meharry Medical College and Penn State University.
"The companies and federal agencies were very interested in making sure that there would be a future pool of engineering talent," Rogers says. "Right now, 50 percent of Ph.D.s in engineering and technology are foreign students. HBCUs were a good place to look for them to increase future engineers."
TSU students benefit from working with leading researchers on cutting-edge research projects, such as examining the causes of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and new wireless technology to monitor the condition of heart patients. The program also gets TSU undergraduates and graduate students into local elementary and high schools to tutor students and help them with research projects. High school students from around the country attend TSU during the summer to attend special enrichment programs.
Rogers says that since 1999, they have had students who started with the program graduate with undergraduate degrees in engineering and go on to graduate schools. Two of these students are pursuing doctorates in engineering at top schools, including partner Penn State, as well as TSU.
The research under way in TSU's Center for Neural Engineering, under Dr. Mohan Malkani, professor of electrical engineering and associate dean of the School of Graduate Studies and Research, also involves partnering. …