Ag funding success ‘broad and deep’ throughout departments, extension
WSU’s Agricultural Research Center (ARC) has increased its grant funding from $27.7 million to $48.9 million in four years, an increase of 77 percent.
“It’s actually been kind of extraordinary,” said Michael Kahn, associate director of ARC. Participation in federally funded research “is broad and deep, involving most of our departments and all of the research and extension centers.”
Over the last four years, the academic and extension programs in the College of Agriculture, Human and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS) have been awarded $175 million.
Historically, Kahn said, the federal government has been much more supportive of health research than agricultural research, meaning a large group of agricultural researchers are chasing a fairly small pot of funding. While the National Institutes of Health still has far more money than the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he said, in recent years there have been more opportunities to compete for large, multidisciplinary USDA grants, and WSU has done very well.
“I think the point is that we’ve got really good people,” he said.
CAHNRS Associate Dean Ralph Cavalieri, ARC director, echoed that thought: “We’ve got a wonderful faculty that buys into the dream of excellence that we are focused on.”
According to Cavalieri, three factors helped ARC nearly double its research funding in four years: opportunity, timing and effort.
In recent years, he said, the federal government has created more competitive grant programs in areas that match WSU strengths, including basic and applied plant science, specialty crops and biofuels and bioproducts. So WSU was able to write extremely strong proposals.
Meanwhile, CAHNRS and ARC had been making strategic hires. They helped build capacity, he said, putting WSU in a stronger position for large, multidisciplinary projects like those offered by the USDA for specialty crops.
For instance, since the beginning of the USDA Specialty Crop Research Initiative in 2008, WSU has received commitments for more than $23 million for projects initiated at WSU and as subcontractors for projects at other institutions. By state, Washington ranks a close second to California in the funds obtained from this program in 2008-2010.
Those grants “fit us well, and the timing was great,” Cavalieri said.
Finally, faculty and staff are pursuing grants large and small with increased vigor, he said, and CAHNRS has created programs and incentives to support their efforts.
“As faculty have seen the state budget decline, they see that our success as an institution and their success as scientists is increasingly dependent on obtaining federal competitive grants,” Cavalieri said.
Support for facilities, collaboration
His office also has attempted to alleviate some of the burden on faculty by creating the university’s first proposal management unit (PMU), providing support to researchers who are working to create large collaborative proposals. So far, he said, WSU teams working with the unit have earned $48.4 million in funded proposals.
Federal, state, private funding
Strategic hires, priorities
Funding will continue to move toward the “grand challenges,” he said, and WSU has identified strategic priorities in areas including smart grid networks, infectious disease, materials science and climate change. Those areas will be pursued with vigor, he said, and he and his staff in collaboration with faculty continue to seek out other “deep pockets” and forge new partnerships among federal as well as private and non-government funding sources.
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Howard Grimes, Office of Research, 509-335-6412, email@example.com
Hope Belli Tinney, 509-335-8741, firstname.lastname@example.org