Number of visits increases; faculty report exciting gains

WSU’s Mission to DC, now well into its third year, is reaping rewards for participating faculty as well as for the man in charge of the program, Jim Petersen, vice provost for research.

“My goal is to make faculty more successful, to enhance their careers and opportunities to advance,” Petersen said. “Mission to DC seems to be having an impact on faculty ability to advance individually and in their collective, collaborative scholarship.”

During a typical Mission to DC trip, Petersen accompanies a group of faculty teams to Washington, D.C., where they visit federal agency officials. These officials can offer information on grants and other funding for which WSU might be best suited to compete.

Learning by doing

Besides informing WSU faculty of how to proceed, the mission experience has helped Petersen refine the process.

“In the first year, it was hard to get faculty with teaching commitments to participate, especially young women faculty with family responsibilities,” he said. Changes implemented to make it easier include:

• decreasing the visit from three days to two;
• scheduling flights that leave early one day and return the next night;
• using time better by visiting with officials as separate teams, rather than taking the whole group, or cohort, to every meeting, as was done at first.

Also increasing efficiency — and boosting the number of missions this year to six, compared to two last year — is work by Lynn Fister, faculty support coordinator for WSU’s Office of Grant and Research Development (OGRD).

“Lynn has been doing a wonderful job of coordinating the trips this year,” Petersen said.

Fister and the OGRD were commended by participating faculty for helping them collaborate, plan, organize and prepare for their D.C. trips.

Petersen said his next challenge is to build interdisciplinary scholarship opportunities in the arts and humanities.

“That’s a major goal I have: To determine who we meet with and how we articulate building scholarship and helping get ‘face time’ with influencers in these areas,” he said.

Examples of success

Two cohorts of WSU faculty have made the trip so far this academic year, one in November and one in December. Participants summarized their progress at a presentation hosted by OGRD on Jan. 13.

Although all participants made progress on various fronts, below is just an example of how a few WSU faculty achieved success in three Mission to DC goal areas.

1) Develop strategic relationships.

Meeting with one official in particular helped Linda Eddy, assistant professor of nursing at WSU Vancouver, re-enter research. A representative from the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development directed her to NICHD-funded research at the University of Washington. Eddy will work on the child health aspect of the UW project, which will make her eligible for future funding for research she initiates.

“This Mission to DC trip was the most important networking experience I’ve ever had in my professional life,” she said.

2) Anticipate future trends to better address research priorities and procure funding.

Amy Mazur, professor of political science, met with officials from a wide range of agencies on behalf of WSU’s Gendering Research Across the Campuses (GRACe) program, for which she is project coordinator. The group’s goal is to promote interdisciplinary research, teaching and scholarship on gender.

Among other information, Mazur was told:

• that the trend at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is to fund projects less oriented to social science and more to medical science;
• that the National Endowment for the Humanities would not favor proposals seen as too one-sided or feminist;
• about specific programs and people to contact in pursuit of funding for projects on women’s mental health and sex/gender differences through the NIMH.

3) Build team strengths.

The WSU engineering education team of Gerald Maring, professor of teaching and learning, Todd Johnson, assistant professor of educational leadership & counseling psychology, both in the College of Education, and Denny Davis, professor of bioengineering in the College of Engineering and Architecture, links the success of its trip to a planning grant received from the National Science Foundation Bridges for Engineering and Education.

“This grant gave us the opportunity to become better acquainted, develop some common vision and begin writing other proposals together,” Davis said.

Potentially the most visible outcome of the team’s D.C. visit is an initiative under development to form an Engineering Education Research Center at WSU.

“One project officer helped us see the importance of developing a formal research center to coalesce the expertise of ourselves and others who potentially could work in this area and leverage larger grants,” Davis said.

The team plans presentations to faculty of the College of Education, later this month, and the College of Engineering and Architecture, sometime in February.

More missions upcoming

Missions to D.C. cohorts are grouped under a research topic and consist of various teams of faculty within that topic. For example, the engineering education team of Maring, Johnson and Davis was part of the November cohort of “Society, Culture, Communication.” Eddy and Mazur participated in December’s “Health & Life Sciences” cohort.

Petersen plans to escort the next cohort (“Physical Sciences”) to D.C. on Jan. 26-27. It will be WSU’s ninth Mission to DC. Others are planned for February, March and April.

Participating faculty teams must be nominated by college deans or campus chancellors, who also fund about half the cost, or about $700, of their faculty member’s D.C. visit. “I encourage the deans to talk to each other to help identify these interdisciplinary teams,” Petersen said.

Yet another effort to show WSU’s excellence in capital

WSU will host a reception in Washington, D.C. to welcome and recognize new and current members of the Washington state congressional delegation on Wednesday, Feb. 9. This is another front, along with Mission to DC, in WSU’s effort to gain notice and make contacts in Washington.

The reception coincides with delivery of the university’s federal funding requests to the delegation.

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