Texas Tech University

Congratulations! Well done!

September 13, 2019 | By: Joseph A. Heppert 

VPR&I Heppert discusses the year’s noteworthy accomplishments and initiatives from the OR&I to grow research on campus.

Joseph A. HeppertMy heartfelt congratulations to all members of the TTU research community. This was a banner year in many aspects of research, scholarship and creative activity at TTU. The recognition and praise for these accomplishments rests squarely on the shoulders of TTU faculty, students, and research staff. We had a number of noteworthy accomplishments this year. Total research awards for the university topped $68 million, with the Departments of Geosciences, Chemistry, Educational Psychology and Leadership, Chemical Engineering, and Pulsed Power Electronics each individually exceeding $3 million in awards. More importantly, our federal research expenditures reached a 5-year high of $33.5 million, and new federal awards exceeded $45 million for the first time. This latter factor is a very important indicator of future research expenditures.

Naturally, there were many individual accomplishments as well. At the risk of picking and choosing, and thus overlooking a long list of distinctions, I will outline a few. Dr. Dale Kretz from History received a prestigious NEH summer stipend award. Dr. Anthony Cozzolino received an NSF CAREER award. Dr. Sarah Beal from the College of Education received a total of $9.1 million in support for growing US PREP, a national teacher preparation model. Dr. Harvinder Gill and Dr. Steve Presley received support from NIH to work on an ambitious effort to develop a more broadly effective flu vaccine. Researchers from a wide range of backgrounds visited several universities in China this summer in order to extend meaningful research collaborations between our campuses. Kim Gramm, director of the HUB, TTU's innovation incubator, received a grant from the Department of Commerce to create an agriculture innovation seed fund.

TTU researchers will very shortly begin occupying the new state-of-the-art Experimental Sciences Building II (ESBII). This space will provide a much-needed infusion of top-quality research space. We have also begun working with department chairs on visioning for spaces in the upcoming Academic Sciences Building, which will provide further modern spaces to support laboratory science instruction and research. TTU's new status as a Hispanic Serving Institution is already spawning activity in capacity building grants and new partnerships that will enhance the diversity of TTU graduate and undergraduate programs. TTU received more good news in the area of capacity building for future graduate students this year when the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion successfully competed for Department of Education funding of the McNair Scholars program. This program has helped prepare thousands of underrepresented and first-generation college students across the country for a successful transition into graduate and professional post-baccalaureate programs. This year marked the beginning of 10 years of collaboration between TTU and what is now FiberMax-BASF. We are proud of this history of collaboration with a major corporation serving the agricultural industry that is so central to the vitality of our regional economy. Finally, TTU was again classified as a Carnegie Very High Research University, continuing our recognition among the elite research universities in the nation and the world.

My office will continue our emphasis on promoting research excellence for faculty in all disciplines. There is no escaping that a key objective for enhancing TTU's research reputation is improving our track record in obtaining federal research funding. There are several simple reasons for this. First, many of our colleagues will require substantial research funding to sustain nationally competitive research programs over the arc of their careers. Federal agencies provide the largest current share of R&D funding in our nation, and, consequently, must be a key funding source for sustaining world class research. Second, federal funding continues to be a proxy for the quality of research being conducted in U.S. research universities. Since we aspire for the reputation and profile of our research to reflect those of the top research institutions in the AAU, we naturally aspire to increase our support from federal agency partners. Finally, national and international systems for ranking TTU research competitiveness employ federal research dollars as a key metric. Today's success in building federal funding will create a foundation for future generations of TTU faculty to succeed in grant competitions. National measures of excellence show that for TTU to be ranked among the top 100 research universities, we need to build our science, technology, engineering, and mathematics federal expenditures to a total of over $40 million.

I believe that cooperative partnerships between my office, faculty researchers, and academic leaders will allow TTU to achieve this vision.

What tangible components of this partnership will help us move forward with this initiative, and what initiatives will we be emphasizing this year? 

  1. Initiatives to improve the quality of grant writing
    • First and foremost, we want to ensure that faculty are presenting their best ideas to federal agencies in a manner that clearly communicates the novelty of the research and aligns the projects with the agency's objectives and priorities. TTU's Office of Research Development & Communications, headed by Dr. Kay Tindle, will continue to hold in-house workshops to help faculty improve and refine the narratives of their proposals.
    • Much of our Research Development effort will focus on improving the quality of large multidisciplinary and multi-institutional projects.
    • TTU will again sponsor individual faculty writing projects with external consultants who will help them tailor their message for specific agencies.
    • TTU has acquired Funding Institutional to allow faculty to identify new funding opportunities and will continue to work with individuals and large groups to target program opportunities.
    • Finally, consultants working for TTU in Washington and Austin are continuing to offer new opportunities for legislative initiatives that align with TTU's research expertise.
  2. Increasing the number of federal grants submitted by TTU
    • TTU's overall success rate in obtaining federal research awards already compares well with our aspirational peer institutions.
    • One factor that is striking about TTU proposal activity is that federal grant submissions have been virtually flat over the past 5 years. So, in order to make significant progress in building our federal research portfolio, we need to increase the number of quality proposals we submit.
    • Fortunately, TTU has hired nearly 180 new faculty over the past two years, and many of these individuals will require federal funding to grow and sustain their research programs.
    • Ongoing engagement of existing researchers and academic leaders in opportunities to develop new, competitive research initiatives, and continued encouragement of new faculty to compete for individual support for their research programs will help us build toward this goal.
    • Increasing current proposal submissions by 130 per year would produce a 20 percent increase in TTU grant submissions, which would establish an important trajectory toward our growth target.
  3. Continued excellence in faculty hiring and retention, including an emphasis on hiring mid-career faculty
    • Recent faculty hires at TTU have been excellent, and are bringing a sense of excitement and commitment to our research programs. My office will continue to work with the leadership of the colleges to recruit the best possible faculty.
    • Recruiting mid-career researchers with an established track record costs marginally more than recruiting junior faculty, but can immediately bring active, complementary research programs into major initiatives.
    • We have acquired new databases to help select recruitment candidates, and are ready to help with suggestions in situations where targeted recruitments make sense.
    • Finally, TTU also needs to focus on retaining successful faculty in all disciplines. My office will be collaborating with the Office of the Provost to study these issues over the coming months.
  4. Identifying competitive scholarly concepts for major research investment
    • We continue to work with Deans, Departments, and Centers and Institutes to identify and ramp up major new research initiatives.
    • Our office invites white papers on building and expanding strategic research thrusts and offers assistance in developing plans to implement campaigns to obtain grant support from federal agencies.
  5. Long term improvement of infrastructure supporting research
    • The effort to finalize the groups that will populate ESBII and begin planning for the new Academic Sciences Building has emphasized the need for a comprehensive review of research infrastructure on campus.
    • My office will continue work with academic leaders and with our campus CFO to ensure that new and existing infrastructure is adapted to address the needs of modern research projects.

Once again, thanks to all TTU researchers for a great performance this past year. My office is ready to partner with you to fulfill your vision of building your research program, and making the coming year the best in our history.

Contact the Office of Research & Innovation at research.innovation@ttu.edu or follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Office of Research & Innovation