KSU researchers on pace to break funding record

Ben Wolford

Professors on the cutting edge could enliven lectures

Kent State professors are raking in record-breaking research grant dollars, and that could translate to better classroom lectures.

“A lot of the professors who are standing up in front of the classroom are doing research,” said John West, vice president for research. “Particularly as you get into the higher levels, you’re learning on the cutting edge of research, the cutting edge of scholarship.”

This year Kent State researchers received $29.3 million as of the end of September compared to $14.2 million last year at that time. At that pace, “it will be a record year,” West said.

His goal for the end of the 2008 academic year is to have accumulated $38 million – $6 million more than last year.

“If we don’t blow by 38 million, I’ll be surprised,” West said. “We’re only three months into the year, and we’re already two-thirds of the way there. You’ll notice I’m smiling a little bit.”

What that means for students is more engaging courses, said Richard Serpe, chair of the sociology department.

“I’m not Richard Feynman; I’m Richard Serpe,” he said, presuming not to be the renowned and jocular physicist. “But I’ve run a survey research center for over 20 years and have had millions of dollars in external funding. So when I teach a research methods class, the kinds of examples I can give, I think, make it more interesting.”

Department of Psychology Chair Mary Stephens said it doesn’t take research to notice the positive effects of research in lecture halls.

“There’s a high correlation between a person who’s successful in getting grants and doing high-quality research and those who are good teachers in the undergraduate classroom,” she said.

And more Kent State teachers are trying to get grants, West said. The increase in funds is the result of more grant proposals.

In his “State of the University Address,” President Lester Lefton said he wanted “to increase the number of state and federal grant proposals submitted by faculty and staff members.”

He expressed the same desire in his 2007 address – to increase proposals by 200 by the end of that year. West said faculty and staff didn’t reach the 200 mark, but did submit more than 500 proposals, 15 percent more than in 2006.

“There needs to be more of an ethic in doing that in general, an expectation to be writing proposals, regardless of the discipline and regardless of the amount,” West said. “There are opportunities to gain external funding for virtually every program on campus.”

Stephens said the grant proposal-writing ethic existed in her department before it was a talking point.

“It’s always been a high priority for the Department of Psychology,” she said. “We want to help the president achieve his goals, but they’re pretty much in line with what we’ve been doing all along.”

Contact administration reporter Ben Wolford at [email protected].