Shepherd University Research Corporation notes 10th anniversary
Ten years ago the Shepherd University Research Corporation (SURC) was created with a mission of attracting money to the university to support faculty research. Since November 2005, SURC has brought in more than $10 million and averages about $1 million per year.
“I like to think of it as a snowball rolling downhill that’s going to increase in size and in momentum,” said Dr. Colleen Nolan, dean of the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and co-director of SURC. Nolan and Charles Blachford, director of grant support, share the duties of managing SURC.
“Especially in this time of fiscal restraint, SURC allows faculty members to pursue different projects that they can’t get funding for now and possibly wouldn’t typically get funding for even if there were not as many fiscal restraints,” Blachford said.
“It means that faculty members can pursue their scholarly activities and also engage students,” Nolan added. “It means we can provide equipment and support services for our students, and it also helps the faculty members remain engaged in their professional research interests. When we think about research interests at a place like Shepherd, those frequently involve students. So it helps bring what’s referred to as high impact practices to the table that facilitate student learning while at the same time promoting continued excellence of our faculty.”
Blachford said one of the most successful grants SURC has received in recent years is from the U.S. Department of Education for TRiO Student Support Services. TRiO helps students who are low income, first generation and/or have disabilities. The $1.1 million grant will allow Shepherd to offer the program for another five years.
SURC has also attracted in excess of $5 million in the past five years for the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics to purchase equipment and instrumentation, support faculty and student research, travel, and outreach to middle school girls to spark their interest in science, technology, engineering, and math. Additionally, SURC has helped write grants that benefit other departments, including history for the restoration of the Entler-Weltzheimer House and local cemeteries, Appalachian Studies for National Endowment for the Humanities summer institutes, student affairs for diversity programs, and the English and education departments for a program to help public school teachers improve their ability to teach writing.
While SURC has helped attract some large grants, Nolan points out it has also been successful working with faculty and staff to obtain many smaller grants for amounts that are frequently between $1,000 and $10,000. For example, SURC helped get grants from a variety of funding agencies to support the Performing Arts Series at Shepherd (PASS), campus diversity initiatives, events that advance civic engagement, and workshops or conferences on aging and ethics.
“These smaller grants are valuable not just because of the funding they provide to support important activities on campus, but as a way to allow faculty and staff to get their feet wet writing grants,” Nolan said. “As faculty and staff become more skilled and successful in preparing grant applications, it can lead to success in winning larger grants.”
Dr. Burt Lidgerding, associate professor emeritus of biology, co-founded SURC. He said one of its original goals was to help faculty secure grants that would allow them to conduct research during the summer months, which is a requirement for promotion and tenure. But Lidgerding said faculty often don’t have time to put together grant proposals while teaching a full load of classes. He said another goal was to encourage students to help with the research.
“The grants almost always incorporate something for the students,” Lidgerding said. “It gives them some money so they don’t have to get an outside job, it gives them credit, and it gives them the opportunity to do research, present at conferences, and publish in journals.”
The first two grants awarded to SURC were for work in health information technology. In 2008 SURC received a $1.1 million grant to conduct surveys of West Virginia hospitals, clinics, and physicians’ offices on their use of electronic medical record systems and other selected health information technologies. In 2009 SURC received a $1.7 million grant from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services for a pilot program to help medical clinics across the state install computer systems to store electronic medical records for Medicaid patients.
Lidgerding, who retired at the end of the 2014-15 school year, takes great pride in the role he played in creating SURC.
“I think it will be one of the things that I will take as a real accomplishment because we didn’t have it before,” Lidgerding said. “Without it you don’t have an avenue, you don’t have any way for people to recognize you as a research community. You’re just sort of left out in the cold. Even if you’re small, it’s still an avenue.”