The committee visited and engaged in discussions with representatives of the following academic institutions: City University of New York, Hampton University, Howard University, Morgan State University, Navajo Technical University, North Carolina A&T State University, Prairie View A&M University, and the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque. A teleconference was conducted with administrators and faculty at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez.
The face-to-face meetings involved primarily “around the table” information-gathering sessions with members of the universities’ research leadership teams and key administrators, faculty that have received funding from ARL or related sources, and undergraduate and graduate students supported by the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) or related sources of funding. Each session began by assuring participants that no observations would be attributed to either individuals or institutions.
The nine institutions selected for visits include, to the extent possible, institutions that had received enough aggregate funding over the last decade to warrant the expectation that the information gathered during these visits would assist the committee in identifying findings and drawing broad observations leading to the recommendations expected from its work. Consequently, eight of the nine discussions took place at universities with documented involvement in graduate research and in the granting of formal science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees for several decades. These eight institutions shared the general status of “good to great” research institutions in select areas mostly driven by the efforts of individuals or small groups; institutions with average to poor reputations in those research areas were not targeted. This appendix summarizes observations made during discussions with these eight institutions and one institution that is only now making a transition from a 2-year associate degree program to a full 4-year undergraduate program.
The eight institutions differ not only with respect to the local circumstances but also to the experiences of the faculty involved, which—as expected—are reflected in the nature of the research topics and the length and dynamics of their interactions with ARL. Nevertheless, common themes emerged. This appendix first collects strong overall impressions. It then proceeds to focus on selected broad areas of discussion, with an emphasis on current status, and highlights opportunities for improvement. Central to the discussions were the issues of scale and impact of ARL funding in the selected institutions: At any given school such funding made up 10 percent or less of its research budget, although it quite often formed a greater proportion of the total funding garnered by the individual researchers who took part in the site visits.
ARL support of research has had and continues to have a positive, enhancing impact on academic programs, infrastructure, students, and faculty. The research appeared to be relevant to the Army, the Department of Defense (DoD), and the federal agencies involved in support of the basic and applied research generated by challenges as identified by the ARL research leadership. The students presenting their work demonstrated confidence, knowledge, and passion for their work. The ARL-supported faculty
members demonstrated an awareness of the research issues and advances in their respective fields. Some were highly conversant with the ARL’s process and well informed about the organization, its culture, and its needs. Researchers at each institution were familiar with the research being sponsored elsewhere by ARL.
The research viewed was of high caliber. It was clear that the faculty involved have done an excellent job of blending graduate and undergraduate participation in their programs, contributing to the overall STEM objectives of the school. While the nature of the research being conducted with ARL funding is highly applicable to the needs and goals identified by ARL, the faculty demonstrated entrepreneurial savvy that systematically leveraged initial research ARL funding to successfully secure extramural support from DoD, the National Science Foundation (NSF), or the like. Such support was not only enhancing their research capacity but also contributing to meeting their institution’s STEM objectives at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
ARL-funded research has had and continues to have a positive impact on facilities, infrastructure, curricula, internships, research production, STEM degree production, and community morale to an extent not only consistent with but also often exceeding the relatively small percentage of overall research funding ARL provides.
Faculty and students appreciate the funding received from ARL. In the best of circumstances, ARL funding has contributed to the capacity building of the science and engineering education programs by attracting high-quality and productive research scientists to the faculty; by contributing to the production of high-quality and diverse Ph.D. scientists; by contributing to the stature of the university, helping it to fulfill its research university status goals; and by expanding the number and quality of STEM opportunities, research experiences, and degrees available to undergraduates.
In many instances the aggregate of ARL funding over many years has supported and enabled the advancement of curricula, the creation of new academic departments, the improvement of business practices and implementation of models of compliance, the start-up of high-quality laboratory facilities, the establishment of focused trails of research publications, and the systematic support of undergraduate and graduate students in STEM fields.
INDIVIDUAL GRANTS VERSUS COLLABORATIVE PROGRAMS
The array of grants and contract vehicles and models used by ARL and the Army Research Office (ARO) over the past decade includes the historically black colleges and universities/minority institutions (HBCU/MI) funding portfolio. While the specific award criteria and management goals vary widely among the identified vehicles, for the purposes of this report the committee divided the vehicles/models into two categories, funding for individuals and funding for groups, to help in organizing the discussion about program type. It was generally observed that funding a single individual faculty member leads to localized progress and development, while funding a group, either as stand-alone at one institution or in a collaboration with other institutions, is more readily incorporated into local plans for institution building. This observation is often borne out by the success of centers of excellence.
All sources of money can have positive impacts, some of them immediate, others longer term: assisting students, enabling research by faculty and students, stimulating new and enhanced course offerings, and setting the stage for further funding by ARL or other agencies. Individual grants for research or equipment with short-term duration tend to have minimal or no long-term impact on institutional development. Indeed, while ARL’s principal investigator grants are valuable, their impact is generally limited to the specific research carried out. Collaborative programs with ARL were considered by the administrators and faculty preferable to such individual grants or contracts because they lead to person-to-person interactions that are more valuable in the long term. The ARL/ARO single principle investigator (PI) program was considered extremely positive. Single-PI funding was seen as complementary, especially for shorter time frames, to projects that would occupy the time of a professor and at most one or two master’s students. The amount of funding and the time frame of single-PI grants
defined its scope and limitations. Larger collaborative project funding that could extend beyond 3 years and be substantial enough to engage a team is important for professors and Ph.D. candidates; such funding allows them to tackle complex problems. The faculty sees the cooperative programs as providing the following: diversity of technical input, leading to more innovation; opportunity to network with faculty and students within and between institutions; increased student exposure that leads to internships; lower overhead allocation (only 23 percent overhead on funds to subcontractors); and opportunity to enhance a university’s reputation and its attractiveness to graduate students.
Larger, multiperson, multi-institution grants may be more effective in building the institution but must be carefully managed, because HBCUs/MIs may sometimes feel that they are not participants in the decisions made by consortia and that their S&T capabilities are not adequately utilized by the prime contractors.
HBCU involvement in collaborative projects, when required, must be taken extremely seriously and, consequently, clearly and continuously documented by the prime contractors. It is necessary that HBCU selection as part of a research collective not be an afterthought and that ARL continuously assess the role of HBCUs/MIs in collaborative agreements. A defective model starts with the prime contractor (or group of prime contractors) organizing the proposal and then identifying the HBCU that fits the written proposal. This guarantees that little will be expected of the HBCU, discouraging any effort by either the prime contractor or ARL to mentor the HBCU participant and include it in significant and transparent ways. It is essential that the HBCUs/MIs be treated from the start as full partners in any collaborative project.
Faculty and administrators emphasized the benefits of securing funding for collaborative projects with colleagues at other research institutions; the by-products of collaborative dynamics were clearly identified, among them their role in adding fuel that further propels capacity building. HBCUs/MIs were open to receiving advice and mentoring and to collaborating with other institutions including HBCUs/MIs.
Senior administrators described poor communication between the institutions and the prime contractors. They would prefer an environment in which ARL and HBCU/MI leadership could discuss long-range research and development partnerships, including collaborative agreements and related funding. They suggest that the Army explore the possibility of using institutions that already have competitive and large research portfolios to serve as lead institutions and to mentor institutions that have not yet crossed that threshold. There are many lessons to be learned from the experience of faculty and leadership at institutions that have managed to become competitive.
While many contributors felt that ARL needs to play a more proactive role in introducing minority institutions to large cooperative programs that afford them meaningful participation, others emphasized the need for a balanced approach. Some researchers noted that the individual grant structure provides the best model for helping students find jobs. The concept of institution building was not a big concern for them; single-PI grants are seen as critically important because the funding comes directly to the PI, who can then support and manage the graduate student’s research. Several suggestions were offered for improving individual grants (presumably those managed by ARO): alter the Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) to permit more travel and add a mandate to include undergraduates; focus on small contracts of 3 years duration with 2-year extensions if performance is good; and get the Army to help in finding internship opportunities for the students.
The faculty expressed a need for the ARL to help to secure more meaningful participation in the bigger cooperative programs and to give HBCUs/MIs a better forum to present their future research ideas. ARL was judged not to be proactive in helping to create collaborations with other universities and government labs.
NEED FOR SUSTAINED SUPPORT
Faculty and administrators were in accord that longer, sustained involvement with an ARL project has advantages over involvement typical of many single-investigator grants. While a 3-year grant can be an important part of a large, ongoing program, it is not enough by itself to develop a program. If not renewed, the resulting discontinuity in student support may be tantamount to forcing a new beginning. The general sense was that opportunities for contract and grant renewal could be integrated into the ARL program. In particular, single-investigator grants to early career faculty ought to be of sufficient duration and, where appropriate, include equipment, allowing these researchers to overcome the disadvantage that most HBCUs have of no start-up packages (or only a few) for early career faculty.
PIs worry about the inevitable end to the funding of a project and look for continued work with ARL. At the same time, of course, they are looking to find other source of support (e.g., NSF, NSA, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA]) to complement ARL funding. Nonetheless the “3-5 years and out” profile generally does not allow the institution to build a useful foundation for itself or the Army.
Particular concern for continuous support of graduate students led to two suggestions:
1. ARL could adopt a model in which its support for Ph.D. students is expected to last 5 years (rather than 3) by way of grants/contracts, since such students must be supported for the duration of their Ph.D. work. Alternatively, 3-year grants could include 5 years of graduate student support; or, minimally, these grants could offer the possibility of no-cost extensions, so that students are not forced to jump into new projects in midstream.
2. Alternatively, and more in tune with the specific needs of minority graduate students, ARL might adopt a model that increases support for undergraduates or graduate U.S. minority students, particularly by means of supplements, as is done, for example, in the Diversity Supplement program of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which supports graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. The NIH model, which has been used to support undergraduates as well,1 might be useful to the Army.
This preference for sustained support did not overlook possible issues with longer term commitments. For example, during execution of a 3-5 (or more) year funded project, the ARL emphasis may shift. At a large institution, such changes in direction within an awarded project can be accommodated more easily because they have a broader talent pool and robust, in-place facilities. At small institutions (as is typical of many HBCUs), a change in direction may require new talent that is not readily available and/or facilities that are not in place, thereby derailing progress toward research students’ degrees. Establishing HBCU/MI affiliations with collaborative entities such as University-Affiliated Research Centers (UARCs) may be a good way to help HBCUs/MIs weather such midproject redirection.
FACULTY AND STEM PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT, INCLUDING STUDENT DEVELOPMENT
Uniform enthusiastic support was expressed for the thesis that funds from ARL had been significant in assisting the development of local STEM programs. ARL funding has been used to carry out research that eventually led to new research centers or important research discoveries, or the strengthening of specific groups. These efforts have led to the establishment of new courses, applied Ph.D. programs, and the development of new curricula at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
1National Institutes of Health, “Research Supplements to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research,” last reviewed September 2, 2014, http://www.nigms.nih.gov/Research/Mechanisms/Pages/PromoteDiversity.aspx.
At each institution visited there were centers of excellence that ranged widely from one institution to the next in terms of technical area of emphasis, size, and numbers. When discussing these success areas, faculty and administrators acknowledged the ARL funding, and while recognizing that it might typically have provided 10-20 percent of the total research funding on which the center’s development depended, they did give credit to ARL funding in many statements such as those paraphrased in the remainder of this section.
Faculty believe that the benefits ARL funding bring to their STEM programs are twofold. First such funding fosters interaction between graduate students and undergraduates. An informal communication network often develops in which students dialogue and contribute time to helping one another, thereby providing insight into the nature of the research being conducted. Second, the funds permit the faculty to consult with their ARL counterparts as well as colleagues at other universities. However, faculty also noted that the ARL dialogue is not frequent enough or robust enough. It was commonly observed that ARL could work with local faculty to develop an effective plan and process that increases the technical interaction between ARL researchers and university faculty and students.
In many cases, faculty have been innovative in blending graduate and undergraduate participation in their programs. They use various means, including providing elective research participation credits that can be earned. The underlying idea is to start the pipeline for research early. The program earns university credits.
Both administrators and faculty suggested that one of the goals of the HBCU/MI program at ARL is to build the institutional capabilities at funded universities. It is therefore critical to take a strategic view based on a full understanding of current strengths. This will help to develop a shared vision of the future with a plan for getting there. Administrators and faculty proposed that ARL increase funding to support the establishment of research centers, thereby enhancing the positive impact of ARL support on campus. Faculty and administrators appeared to be receptive to having ARL scientists help to plan and establish new programs of relevance to Army needs.
The faculty noted many examples of how initial ARL funding had led to further grants from DoD, NSF, and other agencies, which leveraged the initial research. Numerous examples were also provided where the faculty had been effective in forming strategic alliances with various companies to leverage their research. The fact that ARL has confidence in a university adds greatly to the school’s credentials. However, the caliber of the research and of the students were the critical components of success.
EQUIPMENT AND FACILITIES
One may generalize about the lack of competitive facilities at HBCUs/MIs relative to larger research universities. Several discussants indicated that equipment for individuals (particularly those in start-up positions) and for multiple users in facilities was inferior to that at top-ranked competitors and collaborators and that the relatively small grants to HBCUs made equipment purchase and development difficult. In addition, they noted that in many instances, only minimal funding was available from university sources to cover maintenance and upgrades on equipment that had been painfully acquired. Important exceptions to this situation could be found in the centers of excellence that had grown over the years and that were often supported by multiyear, collaborative grants.
This lack of extensive infrastructure gives rise to a disadvantage in the competition for more equipment, a Catch-22 situation. For example, equipment proposals from the HBCU may often be designed to begin equipment development (new hires normally do not receive start-up packages; state funding yields buildings, rarely equipment), while the competing proposal from a large university will complement already existing infrastructure. Lack of technical assistance and minimal matching funds may also have an impact here. Furthermore, even if the equipment is successfully acquired, lack of continuing funding or related research funding may make the equipment at the HBCU/MI less effective
after several years than it might have been at a major institution. All of these factors may lead proposal evaluators to see lower potential returns on investment in the HBCU/MI proposals.
One proposal for increasing access to facilities would have ARL establish and support regional centers where local universities, including HBCUs/MIs, would have access to core research equipment. (More likely, this would be a DoD effort rather than the effort of an individual Service laboratory.) Some attention was given to opportunities to acquire surplus ARL equipment as ARL continues to improve its own facilities. It was suggested that this might be done in a manner that would allow repurposing such surplus by targeted HBCUs/MIs. It was noted that civilian agencies such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) already do this, but the HBCU/MI representatives believed that DoD does not.
ADMINISTRATION OF AWARDS
The process of initiating proposals and managing grant and/or contract funding can vary markedly from one institution to another. Those universities farther along on the path of research development will have strong central systems to support individual or group faculty efforts. By contrast, many HBCUs/MIs still find themselves in the situation whereby individuals must “go it alone” in dealing with the highly varied elements of award administration. Such procedures differ not only from grants and contracts at ARL but also of course, and markedly, from one funding agency to another. Administrative procedures vary widely from one school to the next, as can be exemplified by this brief sampling of comments from faculty and administrators:
• Grant processing is satisfactory; contract processing is more complex.
• There are problems with timing: Funds that arrive too late to hire students or postdoctoral researchers result in low expenditures during the early stages of programs and raise concerns for the sponsoring program manager at ARL.
• Many BAAs limit proposal submissions from a given university to two (sometimes only one) to minimize the load on sponsoring program managers. Internal competition at some schools may then choose the proposals that are best from the perspective of the local goals, eliminating from submission some that might ultimately be viewed best by the Army program manager. Perhaps in competitions targeted at HBCUs/MIs this limit on proposals might be waived or at least eased.
• DoD contracting and report requirements can be very different from those of other agencies. This is particularly true of 6.2 programs, which may take the form of contracts, not grants.
• There has been an issue with multiyear contracting. The faculty expressed the concern that ARL is restricting the HBCUs/MIs, unlike other universities, to yearly contracting.
• There is a difference in indirect costs between contracts and grants; perhaps the contract rate (which is lower) could be used. Also, no-cost extensions are not available.
• ARL could beneficially increase the pool of funds for which HBCUs/MIs may compete and the number of proposals that a given school is allowed to submit.
• In many instances the contracting is conducted and managed by the faculty. The faculty has no difficulty with the process, and funds appear to be released on time. There is a belief, however, that the BAA could beneficially be tailored for the university and that flexibility could be added to permit, or at least not to limit, travel as part of the effort.
STUDENT ENGAGEMENT WITH ARL
ARL has as one of its goals in the HBCU/MI program that students will become aware of, and to the extent possible, participate in Army programs. The funding and quality of research provides a relevance that the students appreciate. While the unstated goal of direct student involvement is eventual
employment at ARL to help address issues of workforce diversity, this is neither anticipated nor measured by ARL. Faculty and students interviewed were well aware of the source of funding and, in most cases, of the relevance of the research to Army goals (or at least to the stated ARL research agenda). However, the student experiences varied widely from school to school and from one type of funding organization to another.
A major issue is the country of origin of the graduate student. At some of the schools visited, foreign students are in the majority, while in others they are in the minority. Access to the ARL campus may be quite difficult to achieve for those non-U.S. students, limiting their participation.
Another significant issue is geography. It is not surprising to find that visits by students and direct participation in ARL activities is easier for those close to the ARL, especially in view of highly limited travel budgets.
Some of the responses from different institutions are presented below, revealing the great diversity of student interaction with ARL:
• There is effective but not sufficient ARL funding to support a good fraction of the strong students from underrepresented groups at the undergraduate level.
• Summer support for undergraduates is not sufficient; 5-year support for Ph.D. students is essential. Projects provide support only for 3 years, and that is not the best funding model.
• Graduate students and postdoctoral researchers have had and continue to have positive interactions and engagements with ARL researchers over a range of research topics.
• Several undergraduate students have done summer internships at ARL facilities.
• Students supported by ARL grants may spend summers at the ARL facility as visitors. Of course, this is the time when faculty expect their students to be free from coursework and available for research in their own school-based laboratories. Except in the unusual case where the student’s work at the ARL facility complements or supplements the funded program at the home institution, this summer visit to ARL is actually detrimental to the success of the funded program.
• There were two opposing opinions about the ARL student (and professor) intern opportunities:
—Internships are a great experience, especially for those who would want to keep research connections with ARL. No one knew, however, if any student intern had ever been hired by ARL.
—Summer internships, while valuable, probably disrupt student progress toward completing a project task, thesis, or dissertation and, therefore, may add time to degree attainment. Discussion followed on the value of connecting the thesis or dissertation research to internship tasks at the beginning of a funded project so that no time is lost. This would take some attentive planning on the part of the ARL program manager and the funded institution.
• Small grant sizes limit opportunities for associated student travel and internship at ARL.
Among the ARL goals for its HBCU/MI program is increased interaction between ARL researchers and faculty and students at the university. This interaction can take many forms. The closest might be cooperation in establishing program goals, followed by direct collaboration, at the ARL site or by the back-and-forth exchange of data, specimens to characterize, or other research items. An intermediate level of collaboration might entail regular communication during performance of the grant/contract, while minimal interaction might consist of infrequent communication that simply makes university personnel aware of the intended Army goals in sponsoring the stated research.
Administrators and faculty frequently indicated their desire for closer relationships with ARL, and they expressed some frustration that this was not happening. The following comments are particularly relevant to this issue:
• The dynamics for early career faculty often involve senior faculty who know the right contact(s) at ARO. A recently funded junior faculty member explained that the relevance of his research to the Army was not clear to him until a senior faculty member had identified for him an Army white paper that fit well with his (the junior faculty member’s) research. Well-connected senior faculty are able to find opportunities and mentors before and during the award process. Many suggestions were made for how the process could be modified if the Army wants an HBCU/MI to have a serious capability to address its needs and goals.
• ARL often fails to provide sufficiently detailed and timely reviews of research white papers submitted by HBCU/MI researchers. Specific comments on the quality of the proposed science would be welcomed by local researchers. More feedback from ARL program managers on failed white papers and proposals would help faculty target for success. Developing successful proposals depends not only on technical content but also on format, which varies from agency to agency. There may be value in ARO’s developing and offering a primer on how to write white papers, perhaps by Webinar.
• Several faculty noted poor feedback on failed proposals. While reviewer comments may have been shared, there did not seem to be opportunities to discuss them with program managers. It is not clear where the responsibility for this shortfall may lie. Faculty also indicated a desire for more interaction with the program managers during program activity.
• Many faculty members expressed the desire for greater participation in the preparation of BAAs prior to their issuance. This would imply a very different relationship with ARL in which strategic program goals are mutually developed and shared.
• ARL encourages participation of HBCU/MI students and faculty in Army-related projects by making opportunities available at the ARL facilities. While this is a desirable goal and may lead to valuable experiences as well as have an eventual impact on ARL hiring, there are aspects of current programs that could be handled better. Faculty are rarely involved directly at ARL facilities, and it is difficult for them to link to on-going research programs. Of course, in addition to the fact that ARL program managers at ARO are not only geographically distant from most funded sites, they do not work with the principal investigators by the very nature of their jobs. Meanwhile, faculty members are looking for closer interactions during the performance of their funded programs.
• Many of the comments by faculty and administrators expressed the desirability of ARL involving the HBCUs/MIs in its higher level, strategic planning in order to build capability of value to the Army. ARL might select one or more HBCUs/MIs as an affiliate laboratory. This same idea was floated with a focus on creation of a core facility of value to other schools and to ARL.
• Some suggested that in addition to individuals seeking relationships with ARL staff and program managers, it would be beneficial to have ARL seek them out. For example, ARL could be invited to attend the annual reviews of research that are hosted by some of the HBCUs/MIs.
• HBCUs/MIs could use the mentoring of ARL to find others in the Army that could fund continued research work related to the original ARL funding. It appeared also that single principal investigators could get better mentorship in connecting to other, non-ARO divisions of ARL for follow-on research support. A related discussion focused on assisting HBCUs/MIs to achieve access to and time on Army/DoD major shared resources (e.g., supercomputing centers).
• Some faculty participants referred to past programs (presumably no longer available) wherein ARL would help a university beyond a specific R&D project. For example, ARL had sent scientists to campuses to help establish new programs at universities. ARL would send its employees to a university to work on theses at the sponsored university. ARL would hire sponsored university professors to teach a technical topic at Army facilities nationally/globally. The discussants saw such non-project-specific initiatives as extremely valuable to STEM capability development and to the reputation of an HBCU/MI as well as clearly supportive of the longer-term interests of ARL and the Army.
• Some participants at universities located far from ARL raised an important issue that they suggested needs further attention. Geographic collocation plays a significant role in collaborations
between many universities and nearby government research laboratories in many agencies. The Army could identify a model or models that make it possible for scientists and researchers to participate collaboratively at research facilities that are not geographically convenient. They asked: How can the Army overcome the limitations of geography so that researchers can collaborate at any ARL facility?
HBCU/MI faculty share an issue similar to that encountered by faculty at all major research institutions—namely, that breaking into the club of those funded by a given ARL program manager is more difficult than getting continuing funding once a track record has been established. This is the underlying raison d’etre for early-career-investigator grants. There are several elements at play here: lack of extensive infrastructure, the reputation of the institution, and length and continuity of funding.
PIs carry with them the cachet of the institution they represent. Program managers at ARO not only sit and wait for proposals; they seek out potential fits to their program areas to address perceived needs, as do program managers at ARL directorates. If they do not look to an HBCU/MI or are unaware of potential opportunities there, it puts potential PIs at a disadvantage. Some faculty seemed to think that this issue needed to be resolved by ARL action; others felt that it was up to the university faculty to bring their skill set to the attention of ARL individual and/or collective action. Probably both efforts are required.