Texas Tech University

CoMC Faculty Awarded Prestigious NSF Grants


September 27, 2019

Logo College of Media & Communication

Faculty from the Texas Tech University College of Media & Communication have been awarded two grants from the National Science Foundation, a prominent source of federal funding and an unusual funding agency for communications-related fields.

“An award from the National Science Foundation is probably one of the most prestigious forms of external validation that your research has global importance,” said David D. Perlmutter, Ph.D., professor and dean of the College of Media & Communication. “We are so proud of the amazing insights our faculty are producing.”

Led by Amy Koerber, Ph.D., professor and associate dean for administration & finance of the College of Media & Communication, one team of researchers is addressing the troubling trend of predatory publishing for academic researchers, particularly for those in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

The multidisciplinary team includes two representatives from the CoMC Department of Journalism & Creative Media Industries, Glenn Cummins, Ph.D., associate professor, and Leo Eko, Ph.D., professor, along with Kerk Kee, Ph.D., associate professor in the CoMC Department of Professional Communication, and Karin Ardon-Dryer, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Texas Tech Department of Geosciences.    

“I'm really proud of our college,” Koerber said. “This grant is particularly noteworthy since four of the five researchers on the team are communication scholars, and that's pretty exciting.” 

For new researchers, navigating how and where to get work published can be a veritable minefield. This project aims to address that problem by developing an online training program to teach everyone everywhere how to recognize (and avoid) publishers who prey on unsuspecting researchers at great cost to both their pocketbooks and their academic careers.

Joseph A. Heppert, Ph.D., vice president for research & innovation at Texas Tech, concurs with the team that this is a universally important and timely topic.

“Dr. Koerber's study will help researchers across the country better understand and engage with the scholarly publishing system,” he said. “As the academic community moves toward more open access of the results of federally-sponsored scientific research, studies of this type will help to inform and enhance our approach to communicating research outcomes.”

Koerber's research team has identified three phrases to be completed between 2020 and 2022, and by the close of the timeline, the team will deploy their online training program to communicate what they have learned to other faculty, familiarize them with the publication process, and train them on how best to avoid predatory publishing as they continue their academic pursuits. 

“With the emphasis on open-access publications, it can be tricky to know which journals are truly legitimate and which are not,” Koerber said. “Some journals charge author fees and yet have only sham peer reviews which means that they have no academic credibility. In this project, we're hoping to teach junior faculty to become more informed consumers and avoid such predatory publishers.”

The second recent NSF-funded project in the College was awarded to a team co-led by Rauf Arif, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the CoMC Department of Journalism & Creative Media Industries. Working in a collaboration with co-principal investigator Callum Hetherington, Ph.D., associate professor in geology, the two researchers will be accompanying three cohorts of students to study one aspect of the geologic industry in South Africa through Track One of the NSF's International Research Experiences for Students (IRES) program.

Called “The origins of magnetite-pipes in the Bushveld Complex, South Africa and their strategic-mineral resources,”  each student group will be studying magnetite-pipes, geological formations common in this part of the world, and which, according to the NSF, contain significant mineral and metal resources important to the high-tech, energy, defense and telecom industries.

Arif noted that it was the interdisciplinary aspect of the three-year proposal that attracted the attention of the NSF proposal committee.

“They were really impressed with our plans to involve our disenfranchised student population to showcase what's being done in the natural sciences using knowledge from the communications field,” he said. “Communication is much more than just newspapers – it's synergy.”

According to the NSF website, the long-term goal of the IRES program is to enhance US leadership in research and education and to strengthen economic competitiveness through training the next generation of research leaders.

CoMC students will be part of each cohort so they can utilize their hands-on skillsets to document the ongoing research experience via real-time social-media platforms. Additionally, when the trip concludes, the students will be collating the media material to produce short documentaries of the IRES experience to be used as promotional material for future trips.

The magnetite-pipe project is also concerned with a second focus, that of the under-representation of Latinos and other first-generation populations in TTU's Study Abroad programs (as compared with institutional demographics). The two researchers plan to address this issue by including underrepresented student populations in the creation and actual content of the project's related media materials.

“One of our goals is to devise communication strategies to attract (and retain) disadvantaged students to document scientific knowledge as it's being found in the field,” Arif explained. “Through this, we're hoping to increase enrollment of disenfranchised students to this field.” 

Additionally, Arif and Hetherington are planning to further support underrepresented undergraduate students who travel for the project by adding specific research experience to their academic resumes in preparation for future admittance to graduate programs after completion of their undergraduate studies.

“Dr. Hetherington's project will expand career-enhancing research experiences for TTU students,” added Heppert. “Opportunities to participate directly in cutting-edge scholarly studies is one of the distinguishing features of degree programs at Texas Tech, and we're very proud of Dr. Hetherington's leadership in this area.”

The project's final materials (including the short documentaries) will be made available to the TTU Office of International Affairs for use in their outreach efforts, aligning the project with the university's critical Quality Enhancement Plan of cultivating campus-wide global awareness. 

Koerber said she hopes that these two awards mark the beginning of many more CoMC federal awards to come. 

“The NSF would not have given us these grants if they were not convinced that our college was capable of effectively stewarding the process so it's symbolic of how far we've come,” she said. “A lot of credit should go to Dean Perlmutter and to Dr. Glenn Cummins for their support.” 

It may be atypical for the NSF to fund communications-related research, but Glenn Cummins, Ph.D., associate professor and associate dean for research & grants in the College of Media & Communication, is hoping that this is just a start for future federally-funded CoMC interdisciplinary collaborations across campus. (Cummins is also a co-PI on the aforementioned NSF-funded STEPP Project.)

“Federal funding was not part of the CoMC vision five years ago, and as the College has grown, so has the support for federal research funding,” he said. “In the past, the communication field has not traditionally been included in the push for federal funding, but the success of these two proposals is evidence that the Dean recognizes its importance as well.” 

“All these pieces fit together,” Cummins said. “CoMC can and will be part of the university achieving these research goals. It's encouraging see our people engage in these federal collaborations. Cultural shift takes time, and the college has been strategic in how it meets these changes.

“This is how Texas Tech University will become the institution we want to be.”


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