Dr. Richard Littlebear, a Cheyenne Indian and president of Chief Dull Knife College, traveled from Montana to the Rio Grande Valley to not only enjoy the warm weather and the local flavor, but to take part in the third national Minority Serving Institutions Research Partnerships 2006 (MSIRP'06) Conference at The University of Texas-Pan American.
Littlebear, whose campus is located on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Lame Deer, Mont., said attending the three-day conference will provide him with an excellent opportunity to network with government representatives and learn what it takes to bring in the federal dollars to his community college to improve curriculum and programs.
In addition, Littlebear said he was amazed to learn that government agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are extremely involved with key issues involving minorities.
"I am learning a lot of agencies actively engage themselves in minority key issues. I always thought the EPA was an ecological environmental organization. EPA has a lot of entrepreneurial initiatives that I think we should take advantage of as Native Americans.
The conference, which runs through Saturday, Feb. 4, is a collaborative effort of institutions of higher learning, particularly Minority Serving Institutions (MSI), government agencies, business and industry and foundations to enhance their ability to create opportunities for contracts, grants and cooperative agreements. MSIs include Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions and Tribal Colleges and Universities. More than 70 higher education institutions from Louisiana, Texas, Tennessee, Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan, Illinois, and Puerto Rico are among the MSIs attending the conference.
EPA Deputy Administrator Marcus C. Peacock, who was nominated by President George W. Bush for the position, addressed the diverse audience on how they can partner with EPA and the opportunities it offers. Peacock said the EPA, which implements and enforces the nation's federal environmental laws and regulations, is currently trying to meet the challenges imposed on them by Bush to become an even better agency. He outlined how the agency plans to meet Bush's challenges through innovation, accountability and results, and the use of the best available science.
"The question is how can you, your small business, or your institution start to become part of EPA's victory? I want to offer three specific opportunities to work with EPA - research opportunities, federal grants and EPA contracts," Peacock said.
With EPA on the forefront of environmental health and research, Peacock said the agency offers undergraduate and graduate students in environmental studies research fellowships, internships and on-the-job training.
Last November EPA awarded 165 research fellowships worth $10 million to students pursuing degrees in environmental studies Peacock said. EPA also has a contract budget of $1.2 billion a year and awarded $4.2 billion in grants.
Dr. Robert E. Barnhill, vice chancellor for Research and Technology Transfer for The University of Texas System, kicked off the MSIRP'06 Conference with a call to action during his morning keynote address.
"Men are often capable of greater things than they perform. They are sent into the world with bills of credit and seldom draw to their full extent," said Barnhill, quoting Horace Walpole. "So, our job is to help people draw to a fuller extent than they would otherwise, which can be a theme of this meeting."
Barnhill is responsible for encouraging large-scale research collaborations among the UT System institutions and with other universities. His office works to enable industry to gain more from university research and education. He is also responsible for developing special opportunities for research with the UT System and its institutions through collaborations with federal labs.
"America is at a scientific crossroads. We have been pre-eminent in science since World War II. Others have finally caught on that this pre-eminence has fueled our economy and led to our economic prosperity," Barnhill said.
During his speech, Barnhill talked about current federal support of research, the inclusion of minorities in research, state support of research and University reorganizations that empower research efforts.
In order for America to sustain its pre-eminence, Barnhill recommended recruiting more teachers into science and engineering, increasing federal funding, increasing the number of U.S. citizens in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, especially in areas of national need, and strengthening realistic intellectual property rights and encouraging U.S.-based innovation.
"There is an uneven participation in high-tech education among American citizens. Given our national demographics we must focus on groups that have been underrepresented in the STEM fields," Barnhill said. "Change is difficult and this change is very difficult, and can only be effective with skilled leadership such as that represented at this conference."
During a session titled "Encouraging Faculty Entrepreneurship," Dr. Donald Andrews, dean of the College of Business at Southern University and A&M College, explained that entrepreneurship is the ability to identify an opportunity regardless of the resources available.
"The best way to successfully predict the future is to create it," Andrews said, to more than 50 conference participants. "By the time you catch up with change, the competition is already ahead of you."
Andrews encouraged participants to find opportunities for entrepreneurship even though it requires a great amount of effort, locate resources and partner with a team of quality people.
Dr. Robert Ford, associate provost for Research at Texas Southern University, spoke specifically about entrepreneurship opportunities that could benefit from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund - a proposed $300 million fund for research and development activities in emerging technology industries in Texas.
Eligible industries are those that will lead to immediate or long-term creation of high quality new jobs in Texas and/or could lead to medical or scientific breakthroughs.
Industries include, but are not limited to: semiconductor, information, computer and software technology, energy, manufactured energy systems, microelectromechanical systems, nanotechnology, biotechnology, medicine, life sciences, petroleum refining and chemical processes, aerospace, defense, and others determined by the governor, lieutenant governor, and speaker.
"We are here at this conference because we believe we can leverage each others strengths," Ford said. "It is the combination of our institutions that have complementary assets that make us viable. We've finally realized that if we do that we can compete with the big schools."
The Department of the Interior's, Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU), Western Coordinator Lee Allen complemented the discussion with his personal knowledge of how businesses succeed in getting contracting opportunities.
"I looked at some statistics one day within my agency and I got to see where the dollars went for contracts, grants, and cooperative agreements for traditional schools versus minority schools," Allen said. "Minority schools weren't getting hardly anything. I'm now involved in initiatives to help improve that."
Allen also provided participants with tips for developing and encouraging entrepreneurship including release time for faculty, establishing policies where faculty can use the dollars they earn in their program areas, providing incentives for faculty such as higher salaries, and encouraging faculty to extend their entrepreneurship ventures through their curriculum and provide student involvement.
In another session titled "Innovative Techniques to Build Research Capacity and Culture," a large number of enthusiastic conference participants were seeking ways to cultivate increased research and an improved culture for research on their campuses.
The session was led by Dr. Marcus Shute, vice president for Research and Sponsored Programs and professor in the College of Engineering, Technology and Computer Science at Tennessee State University (TSU); Dr. Chris Maples, vice president for Research at the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Nevada; and Dr. N. Radhakirishnan, vice chancellor for Research and Economic Development, North Carolina A&T State University (NC A&T).
Shute, who is responsible for the management and leadership of the research enterprise at TSU, said research funding at his campus, grew from $9 million in 1991 to $40 million in the past few years, making the university one of the leaders in the state of Tennessee in research funding.
Shute discussed several steps TSU had taken to enhance research.
"One of the things we have done is to try and streamline the research process for our research faculty, staff and students. We have tried to put everything into one organization to provide a one-stop model for our principal investigators, bringing pre- and post-functions in house to facilitate researchers. We also try to focus on areas where we already have a fair amount of expertise and leverage those areas to move into other high-growth areas," Shute said.
Maples, who heads DRI, a stand-alone research institution in the Nevada System of Higher Education which had $30.87 million in sponsored research in fiscal year 2004, said DRI has a well-established focus on administrative support of research.
"Administration is there to help faculty to streamline processes, to make things easy, to make research a real reward rather than an arduous task," he said. "The key for us was getting it (research) out from underneath some of that institutional bureaucracy."
DRI's diversity in funding support for individual faculty, Maples said, has helped provide stability for his institution. Since DRI does not have an academic mission per se, it is more readily rapid-response and products oriented he added. Also, an entrepreneurial spirit is necessary by researchers at DRI since no faculty is tenured relying solely on the support of grants and contracts.
Radhakirishnan, who said his university is the highest producer of African-Americans with bachelor's, master's and Ph.D. degrees in engineering among all Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the country, is proud of the fact that NC A&T is ranked third in terms of research funding in the University of North Carolina system ranked behind only UNC-Chapel Hill and North Carolina State. In order to achieve his goal of both increasing mainstream as well as niche research, Radhakirishnan said he also sought to change the research administration culture.
"I tell the staff that they are there to make the faculty successful," he said, requiring them to ensure the legality, accuracy and timely preparation of proposals for example. His staff also provides budget and project management to faculty after the award.
As a result of a Research Council established by Radhakirishnan to increase faculty participation and address their concerns, research clusters were formed based on existing core strengths and also strategic future areas of research, such as Homeland Security.
Collaboration is another key area in terms of growing your research enterprise or stimulating a research culture on a campus Shute said. TSU's extensive list of institutional partnerships includes two with The University of Texas-Pan American.
"We search for collaborators all over," Maples said. For example DRI has collaborations with scientists to resolve problems from around the world ranging from air pollution in Egypt to the degradation of unburied Terra Cotta Warriors in China, considered by some as the eighth wonder of the world.
The establishment of a facility or complex on campus to focus solely on research is an important first step in improving necessary research infrastructure said Shute. TSU, he said, is building such a complex as well as establishing research centers that have research foci aligned with the needs of their federal partners and funding agencies. TSU is also starting a non-profit research organization connected, but not controlled by the University, to facilitate industry collaboration and provide contract and technical services.
Maples said DRI has four integrated science centers that serve as focal points and he reiterated their importance in providing a place where faculty can come together and interact and exchange ideas. They also provide a place to more easily move into future areas of research he said.
"They (research centers) allow some leadership and help to get groups of faculty together to get them talking to each and sharing the same language," Maples said, adding that when ever DRI has increased the building of facilities there has been a corresponding increase in revenues.
The establishment of an embedded research culture is most important said Radhakirishnan.
"People have to see research in an organization," he said. His university has used monetary awards and reduced teaching loads as ways to achieve recognition for research endeavors by faculty. TSU has established several faculty awards programs to stimulate and recognize research at their institution.
Renee Gonzalez, a grants contract administrator, from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi said she enjoyed the presentation. "I liked hearing about how the different institutions handle their research, what the cultures are and where everybody is at in their research areas," she said.
One of the most significant points that stood out in the presentation for Dr. Maria Thompson, director of Research and Sponsored Programs at TSU and associate professor in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, is the reinvention of the university and the research enterprise, particularly helping faculty to be more entrepreneurial and empowering faculty to produce research that not only helps the institution but also the community and the public at large.
The conference continued with the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) director's panel during a luncheon. The panel made up of representatives from the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of the Interior all discussed contracting and grants possibilities with their respective agencies.
The MSIRP'06 Conference continues through Friday with a visit from U.S. Treasurer Anna Escobedo Cabral, who will serve as guest speaker, at a barbecue at the Museum of South Texas History in Edinburg. Also, the Business and Student Expo resumes Saturday, Feb. 4 at the Health and Physical Education Building II. University students and the public are invited to attend the expo and meet with government agencies, corporations and other organizations.