Provost Bayly and Vice Chancellor Kang.
Building on existing ties
to leverage grant money
Working with international research partners has always helped faculty stay at the forefront of their discipline, but increasingly it is an avenue for grant funding as well.
Last month WSU professor Shulin Chen traveled with the WSU delegation to India to help solidify key relationships in anticipation of applying for a grant from the U.S.-India Joint Clean Energy Research and Development Center. The call for proposals has not yet been released, but the program was announced last fall and the three focus areas for the grants are energy efficient buildings, second generation biofuels and solar energy.
Chen, a faculty member in Biological Systems Engineering, had been working for several months to identify research partners at several of India’s top universities, including Punjab Agricultural University, to complement his work in biofuels and bioenergy.
“We had specific goals in mind,” Chen said. “Before we went there we did our homework.” Chen’s research group on the Pullman campus includes people from several different countries including India, Chen said, so he was able to draw on their knowledge of Indian universities and research programs.
The key, he said, was figuring out how the work of his group could be extended and deepened by the addition of international collaborators, and vice versa. In looking ahead to the grant proposal, he said, they focused on how to make their collaborative effort as competitive as possible.
“I believe we can maximize WSU’s research impact by expanding our efforts to work with researchers internationally,” he said.
The idea of maximizing impact through international collaboration is gaining traction. For instance, in 2010 the NSF-funded BREAD project (Basic Research to Enable Agricultural Development) awarded 15 grants totaling $20 million to U.S. universities and international collaborators, including a group led by WSU wheat geneticist Kulvinder Gill.
In 2010, NSF awarded 15 grants totaling more than $55 million to international research groups through the PIRE (Partners in International Research and Education) program.
Solicitations for the 2011 PIRE awards are expected this month, with proposals due in late summer. The NSF has indicated all PIRE awards will focus exclusively on science, engineering and education for sustainability.
Punjab Agricultural University, one of the most prestigious agricultural universities in India, has signed memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with more than 90 universities. But, said WSU wheat geneticist Kulvinder Gill, the one signed last month with WSU was historic.
“They are calling this one historic because they see true potential of something very good happening,” said Gill, professor and Vogel Endowed Chair in wheat breeding.
Gill, along with WSU Provost Warwick Bayly, Prema Arasu, vice provost of international programs, and a small delegation of WSU faculty attended the formal signing celebration in Ludhiana, India, in late March.
The trip was an occasion to solidify relationships related to graduate education and agricultural research, recruit more Indian undergraduate students to WSU, and build new partnerships. (See related story.)
WSU already partners with PAU on research initiatives, Gill said. He has two visiting professors working in his lab on the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded BREAD (Basic Research to Enable Agricultural Development) project, which also received support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The three-year $1.6 million grant is one of 15 awarded to U.S. universities and international collaborators in 2010, all focused on food security issues.
The partnership with PAU will strengthen WSU’s already strong international presence in food security, Bayly said.
“Hunger continues to be one of the world’s greatest problems,” he said. “The only chance that it might be adequately addressed is by improving food production through collaborative agreements of leading academic institutions around the world. This agreement represents a step in the right direction.”
The MOU spells out guidelines for graduate education, Gill said. WSU faculty who work with a PAU student would use grant money to cover the student’s in-state tuition. PAU would provide the student with an assistantship to cover food and housing.
“This benefits us as well as them,” Gill said. Not only will students at both universities benefit from the international ties, but by sharing technology and research capabilities, both universities will be able to save money and leverage existing resources.
Students could begin arriving as early as next fall, he said, but no target numbers have been set.
“It’s going to depend on the first few students,” he said. “We want to do it the right way.”
Gill, who earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees at PAU in the 1980s before entering the doctoral program at Kansas State University, has been a WSU faculty member since 2002. For the past five years, he said, he has been working to build closer ties with PAU.
“It takes awhile before people really open up and are receptive to working with you,” he said.
Gill has active research collaborations with four universities in India, including Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee, Govind Ballabh Pant University of Agriculture & Technology and Meerut University.
“It’s all about creating linkages,” he said.
Last summer Gill invited PAU Vice Chancellor Manjit Singh Kang to visit WSU and was able to use grant money to pay for the trip. The visit enabled Kang to meet with faculty, tour the facilities and get a better feeling for the breadth and depth of WSU’s agricultural programs.
“I am so glad we did that,” Gill said. “If he had his way, all new faculty at PAU would get Ph.D.s at WSU,” he joked.
He said WSU’s ranking as one of the top plant programs in the country certainly helped, but Kang also was impressed by Pullman’s rural location and safe environment.
Just as it was important for Kang to visit WSU last July, it was equally important for Bayly to visit PAU in March.
“When someone like the provost shows up with you, that changes people’s perception of how important this is,” Gill said.