Kent State looking to increase presence among top research universities

Emma Keating

The Kent State Board of Trustees voted to establish the Brain Health Research Institute Wednesday as part of the university’s effort to increase research involvement.

More than 50 faculty members across various disciplines are involved in brain health research according to a press release, making brain health one of Kent State’s strongest research areas.

“It’s everything from music and music theory to biological sciences,” said Paul DiCorleto, vice president for research and sponsored programs said. “Even in English there are people who have interest in that and bringing them together would be a plus.”

DiCorleto said that while the Liquid Crystal Institute is the most recognizable research initiative on campus, he hopes to facilitate more of a collegial research community across the university. He said this type of teamwork can make a large difference.

“One of the liquid crystal researchers got together with someone from the fashion school and someone from the podiatry college … they came together to develop a sock that by detecting temperature and changing color, it can tell a diabetic whether they have some problem with their circulation,” DiCorleto said. “It’s in the development stage, but it just shows how different perspectives can lead to something.”

Currently, Kent State is a small fish in a big pond when it comes to research grants and funding. But DiCorleto said he was brought on the team a year ago to push the university in the right direction.

DiCorleto’s resume includes 12 years of serving as Sherwin-Page Chair of Research at the Cleveland Clinic and 11 years of serving as a chair of the Department of Molecular Medicine at Case Western Reserve University. He said that at the Cleveland Clinic, most faculty knew what most others were doing in research at any point.

“Here we’ve got a really broad university,” DiCorleto said. “We’ve got the fashion school, the Liquid Crystal Institute. But in some cases when people come together in diverse areas but with some common interests, great things can happen. You don’t want people sitting at a table all from the same background who all think in similar ways about problems, and that that’s the limit. You really want other people to come in and say, ‘Well, have you thought of it this way?’”

In order to facilitate this, DiCorleto started a Research Innovation Forum twice a semester to provide the opportunity for researchers to meet and talk to one another.

“This is a very collegial institution. But if you’re in a department, especially as a more junior person, you may not know what else is going on here,” he said.

Over the years, Kent State has been slowly increasing its amount of research funding, but recently realized a mistake after failing to report internal funding numbers in addition to external numbers.

“In a smaller institution where you don’t have much going on, the internal expenditures can be a significant part of it and historically here that wasn’t taken very seriously.” DiCorleto said. “In terms of Kent State’s own commitment to research, they weren’t counting anything towards faculty salaries that were committed to doing research. And that should be counted.”

DiCorleto said that while the real measure of quality research is external funding, the university should aim to be more careful in its future reporting.

“We were only hurting ourselves in the game of comparisons by not reporting what we should be reporting,” he said. “Not stretching the truth, not being conservative, but being correct.”

The majority of the funds that come in from a grant go to the research project directly, such as paying for a faculty member’s salary or equipment. In federal grants, an additional amount of money is sent as an overhead to cover indirect costs, such as administrative pay or heating and electricity in buildings. The federal rate is normally set at 50 percent of the direct costs.

DiCorleto said that all in all, he hopes to bring the research community together while he serves here, and in doing so creating a supportive environment for faculty and students.

“We’re trying to provide as much support by taking the lead and providing workshops; taking groups of faculty and have the faculty meet on a regular basis and work on one aspect of the grant; circulate what they wrote with each other, then move to a different aspect,” DiCorleto said. “This kind of group dynamic helps.”

Another recent addition to research at Kent State is the Office for Undergradute Research, directed by Ann Gosky.

Gosky said that the office was created to get more students engaged in research, in addition to supporting programs like the Undergraduate Symposium on Research and Creative activity, which has seen an increase in interest over the past three years.

Summer 2016 was the first time hosting the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience, in which students are given a stipend to work with a faculty member over the summer, which Gosky said benefited students and faculty greatly.

“Both faculty and staff evaluations were conducted and from both perspectives the program was a huge success,” Gosky said.

Between the 2014 and 2015 fiscal years, there was a $3 million drop in external funding for research, and DiCorleto said it may take a while to get research funding back on the rise.

“These things don’t happen overnight,” he said. “In the past we had significant funding from the national institute of health, and we still have significant funding but it’s going down. We want to see that go back up.”

Emma Keating is the arts and sciences reporter, contact her at [email protected]