April 2, 2018
The iUTAH EPSCoR project has built Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) capacity in Utah through its Research Catalyst Grant (RCG) program. These competitively funded grants targeted faculty at primarily undergraduate institutions (PUls) involved in water-related research. They also strongly encouraged undergraduate student participation in research, presentations, and publications. What started as seed funding for research evolved to take a more holistic approach including professional development, release time from teaching, and funding for additional equipment and resources. An outreach component of this program also supported 23 outreach events to diverse audiences.
As a result, 20 researchers, 11 of them women, were awarded RCG funding totaling $300,000 over the past five years. The research involved four different PUIs: Southern Utah University, Utah Valley University, Weber State University, and Westminster College.
The research of RCG awardees has captured the attention of larger universities in Utah, as demonstrated in these stories below:
"The RCG grants and participation in iUTAH gave the PUI faculty opportunities to flex their professional muscles through research; it also provided a break from heavy teaching loads,” said one participant in a post-award focus group. Another applicant not receiving an RCG grant said that “the whole RCG process had been instrumental in providing a relatively streamlined, low friction opportunity, which incentivized him to put together a proposal, and providing feedback that strengthened the proposal to the point where it could be competitive in another setting.” The applicant later received funding from a federal agency.
Awardees have taken full advantage of professional development training, opportunities, and funding offered by iUTAH to grow their skills and present their research. Three recipients participated in communications workshops by the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, 8 participated in an iUTAH sponsored Broader Impacts Forum, and one recipient was awarded a travel stipend to attend a Council on Undergraduate Research Institute on developing an undergraduate research program at a PUI. The program also supported travel for four students and their mentors to present RCG research at scientific conferences.
iUTAH’s RCG program has also encouraged continuity and synergy among research efforts carried out at PUIs, as evidenced by the publication of a co-authored paper by two non-concurrent RCG recipients. Suzanne Walther from UVU was among the first researchers to receive a RCG award in 2013. After she left the university for another post, Weihong Wang continued Walther’s initial research, and later expanded on the theme by submitting her own successful RCG proposal in 2015. Both researchers published their results, along with other iUTAH collaborators, in a paper titled “The historical records of stable isotopes and trace metals along Utah Lake-Jordan River transition zone, Utah (USA)” through the Utah Geological Association Publication, in 2017.
Interdisciplinary research and cross-campus collaborations has been a hallmark of the iUTAH RCG program. Research projects have involved 111 students to date, representing one third of the iUTAH undergraduate student cohort. Additionally, 14 of the researcher awards involved collaborations with at least one of three academic research universities in the state. Three also involved collaborations with other PUIs. To date, RCGs have generated 7 publications, 51 presentations, and 8 submitted grant proposals. Five of these grant proposals were awarded, for a total of $169K. Undergraduate students at PUIs throughout Utah were truly the beneficiaries of the RCG program by being involved with faculty mentors in real research and having opportunities not otherwise available to them.
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