Record marks third consecutive year above $20 million for externally funded research

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Tennessee Tech University officials announced that externally funded research topped $22 million, a new high for Tech researchers, and the third consecutive year for the university above $20 million.

“Outside organizations value the expertise and skills of Tech’s researchers,” said Tech President Phil Oldham. “External funding allows our talented faculty and staff to create, advance and apply knowledge to expand opportunity and economic competitiveness through impactful research.”

Tech researchers saw 172 sponsored research activations made in 2020-2021, a 11.7% increase over the previous year.

“The faculty and staff researchers at Tech have done an excellent job, both in their research and in securing outside funding,” said Jennifer Taylor, vice president for Research and Economic Development. “Even though much of this year was impacted by the pandemic, we still saw increases in both proposals and activations.”

Tech is in the midst of a strategic initiative to increase externally funded research to $40 million by 2025. The Carnegie Classification, the national system for classifying colleges and universities, for Tech is an R2 university — a doctoral university with high research activity. Criteria for this classification includes research funding.

The current year (2021-2022) is off to an impressive start, with $11.64 million in research funding activated in the first two months alone, a 130% increase over the same period last year.

“University research increases our understanding of our world and contributes to the welfare of our state and nation through its impact in all areas of human endeavor,” Taylor said. 

Faculty research and teaching are mutually enhancing, Taylor said. Faculty members bring their research insights into the classroom, along with providing opportunities for students to become directly involved by working closely with faculty in research and creative efforts.

“These experiences are fundamental to preparing students whether to be career-ready upon graduation or to be successful in pursing post-graduate professional and scientific educational opportunities,” Taylor said.  

For 2020-2021, 131 Tech faculty and staff were the principal investigator (PI) or a co-PI on the funded projects, 38 of whom obtained funding of more than $100,000 each. These individuals will be inducted into the 2020-2021 Wings Up 100, a group that recognizes researchers who have more than $100,000 in external funding in a given year.

Three researchers topped $1 million in external funding: Kevin Liska, director of Tech’s iCube; Martha Howard, associate professor of early childhood special education; and Ambareen Siraj, professor of computer science and director of Tech’s Cybersecurity Education, Research and Outreach Center.

Five of Tech’s colleges received at least $1 million in outside funding. Tech’s College of Engineering accounted for the largest funding amount ($6.18 million), followed by the College of Business ($3.18 million), the College of Arts & Sciences ($3.09 million), the College of Education ($2.81 million), and the College of Agriculture & Human Ecology ($1.08 million).

In 2019, Tech announced its grand challenge initiative, Rural Reimagined, to partner with rural communities by engaging every academic discipline at the university to examine the challenges that rural communities face. Part of this engagement is research into these challenges.

Funding for research projects related to the grand challenge brought in $1.68 million in 2020-2021, more than doubling the rural-related projects over the previous year.

“Faculty researchers provide a key component in impacting rural communities,” said Michael Aikens, director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Tech and co-chair of the grand challenge committee.

The $22.77 million total for the year included $4.35 million in state funding for Tech’s three Centers of Excellence (The Center for Energy Systems Research; the Center for Manufacturing Research; and the Center for the Management, Utilization & Protection of Water Resources) and the Cybersecurity Education, Research and Outreach Center.

“Our faculty and staff researchers put in a lot of effort to obtain this important funding,” Oldham said. “This enables them to better serve their students, the state and the world.”

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