Research places Tech another step up

January 26, 2011

by Kelly Belton, NEWS EDITOR

Despite financial setbacks and worries about the future of higher education, Tech continues to move forward as the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching elevated Tech to Carnegie’s “Research University – high research activity” (RU/H) category earlier this month.

Tech President Dan Reneau said he was not expecting to hear from the Carnegie Foundation, but received notice of the reclassification via e-mail. It was announced Jan. 13.

“It came as a surprise,” Reneau said. “But we had been hoping for a reclassification for some time as we have increased our research and academic activity over the past few years.”

The change was in Tech’s “basic classification,” one of many the Carnegie Foundation identifies. 

Tech’s receives rank recognition 

According to the foundation’s website, Tech’s new RU/H category places the school among the likes of Baylor University, Rutgers University, the University of Mississippi and more than 90 other schools. 

To qualify for this classification, the doctoral-granting university must have awarded at least 20 research doctorates in the 2008-2009 school year. The foundation also looked at level of research activity.

Les Guice, vice president for research and development, said the reclassification comes after years of building a strong foundation in research.

Having the research labs, supportive staff and successful faculty who can competitively vie for grants is a key aspect. Guice said there is a network involved in helping maintain and grow research at Tech. 

There is a research council, which includes associate deans for research from all five colleges, one research faculty member from each college, and some representatives from other groups, like the library.

“We also have research center directors who play an important role,” Guice said. “They’re not formally part of the research council, but they do play important roles in building our capacity for research and our faculty being successful.”

Grants reflect Tech’s success

In the past fiscal year, Guice said Tech was awarded more than $50 million in external awards, and that number has been increasing over the past four years. These awards often come in the form of grant money from agencies such as the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy.

“Last year, there were about 315 proposals (for grants) that were submitted,” he said. “Last year we had 360 grants or contracts that were active.”

Guice also said he has seen an increase in the number of faculty members who receive research funding. 

Of those eligible to compete for grants, Guice said roughly 40 percent are funded. Mark DeCoster, an associate professor of biomedical engineering, said receiving grant money is very competitive. 

“A good prediction for success is 10 percent or less,” he said. “About 90 percent of all the grants we write just don’t get funded.”

DeCoster said he is fairly aggressive with his grant proposals and averages around eight to 10 per year. 

Research remains priority

Regardless of how much is going on, DeCoster said research is important for universities.

“Research is all the new knowledge coming in,” he said. “If you have research at a university, it brings in important money and new instruments and new ideas and discoveries, which then we can tout as ‘hey, we’re a leader and we’ve been elevated by Carnegie.'”

That new information, DeCoster said, can be used in the classroom so that students are learning the best information, not the old ideas.

“I think research is kind of like the fuel for the vehicle,” he said. “You may have a car, but if you run out of fuel, it just sits there, and you don’t get to do anything with it.”

E-mail comments to keb029@latech.edu.