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Review of Army Research Laboratory Programs for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions (2014)

Chapter: 4 Generalized Findings from Discussions with Selected Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions

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Suggested Citation:"4 Generalized Findings from Discussions with Selected Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions." National Research Council. 2014. Review of Army Research Laboratory Programs for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18963.
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4

Generalized Findings from Discussions with Selected Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions

The committee visited and engaged in discussions with administrators, faculty, and students at 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 discussion was conducted with administrators and faculty at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez. Each discussion started off with the affirmation that reported observations would not be attributed to individuals or institutions. The selected institutions had received ARL funding over the last decade. Eight of the institutions are universities with documented involvement in graduate research and the granting of formal STEM degrees for several decades. This chapter of the report briefly summarizes observations derived from the discussions; a more detailed summary is presented in Appendix B.

The selected institutions differ not only with respect to local circumstances but also to the experiences of the faculty involved, which reflect the nature of the research topics and the length and dynamics of their interactions with ARL. Nevertheless, common themes emerged. ARL funding at each institution amounted to at most 10 percent and generally much less of the institution’s research budget, although the funding garnered by the individual researchers who participated in the discussions often accounted for a larger percentage.

GENERAL OBSERVATIONS

ARL support of research has had and continues to have a positive, beneficial impact on academic programs, infrastructure, students, and faculty. The basic and applied research described by the institutions was uniformly of high quality and appeared relevant to the Army, DoD, and federal agencies involved in such research. The students who presented their work demonstrated confidence, knowledge, and passion for their work. The supported faculty members were aware of the research issues and advances in their respective fields. Some were highly conversant with the ARL’s process and well informed about the ARL organization, its culture, and needs. Researchers at each institution were familiar with the research being sponsored elsewhere by ARL

The faculty involved had done an excellent job of blending graduate and undergraduate participation in their programs, contributing to the overall STEM objectives of the school. The nature of the research being conducted with ARL funding is applicable to the needs and goals identified by ARL, and, using entrepreneurial savvy, faculty had systematically leveraged initial ARL funding to successfully secure DoD, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), or other forms of extramural support to enhance their research capacity and contribute to the institutions’ efforts to meet their STEM objectives at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

ARL-funded research has helped to improve community morale and has supported and continues to support expansion of facilities, infrastructure, curricula, internships, research production, and STEM degree production, to an extent consistent with (and often exceeding) the relatively small percentage of the institutions’ overall research funding it contributes.

Suggested Citation:"4 Generalized Findings from Discussions with Selected Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions." National Research Council. 2014. Review of Army Research Laboratory Programs for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18963.
×

INDIVIDUAL GRANTS AND COLLABORATIVE PROGRAMS

The array of grants and contract vehicle and models used by ARL and ARO over the past decade includes the HBCU/MI funding portfolio. The specific award criteria and management goals vary widely from vehicle to vehicle, described in Chapter 5 and Appendix B, but for the purposes of the current discussion about program type, funding was categorized as individual or group. It was generally observed that funding to a single individual faculty member leads to localized progress and development; group funding, either as stand-alone at one institution or collaborative with other institutions, is more readily incorporated into the local plans for institution building, often manifested in the achievements of centers of excellence. The following observations on individual and group funding were gleaned from the discussions with the representatives of selected HBCUs/MIs.

Discussions at the institutions visited yielded the finding that ARL funding at any given school corresponded to 10 percent or less of its research budget, although it was quite often a greater component of the total funding garnered by the individual researchers who took part in the site visits. All sources of money can have immediate positive impacts: assisting students, enabling research by faculty and students, stimulating new and enhanced course offerings, and setting the stage for further funding by ARL and/or other agencies. On the other hand, individual, short-term grants for research and/or equipment tend to have minimal or no long-term impact on institutional development. Discussions with representatives of selected institutions and information gathered over multiple committee meetings confirm the value of ARL investment in individual principal investigator grants at HBCUs/MIs, with full understanding of their limited institutional impact beyond the specific research carried out.

Faculty and administrators emphasized the benefits of securing multi-investigator grants, including collaborative projects funded in connection with the work of colleagues at other research institutions. They had clearly observed the by-products of collaborative dynamics, including the role of collaborative programs in adding fuel that further propels institutional capacity building. The HBCUs/MIs were open to receiving advice and mentoring and collaborating with other institutions, including other HBCUs/MIs. Such larger multiperson, multi-institution programs can be more effective in building the institution, but they must be carefully managed to avoid the perception, expressed during the discussions, that HBCU/MIs are sometimes regarded as second-tier participants by both other research institutions (prime contractors) and ARL staff. It is necessary to treat HBCUs/MIs from the start as full partners in any collaborative enterprise.

Multiperson/multi-institutional grants of extended duration are more likely to have lasting impact on building institutional capability. ARL does offer such support to HBCUs/MIs, and many opportunities for improvement in this area were identified during discussions and are summarized briefly below and in more detail in Appendix A.

THE IMPORTANCE OF SUSTAINED SUPPORT

Faculty and administrators at all the institutions engaged in the discussions were in accord in noting that longer, sustained involvement with an ARL project has advantages over the shorter involvements typical of many single-investigator grants. Although a 3-year single-investigator 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 almost the same as beginning once again. The general sense was that opportunities for contract and grant renewal need to be integrated into the ARL program. In particular, single-investigator grants to early-career faculty need to be of sufficient duration and, where appropriate, need to include equipment, so that the researchers can address the disadvantage that most HBCUs have of no start-up packages for early-career faculty or, at most, limited such packages.

Suggested Citation:"4 Generalized Findings from Discussions with Selected Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions." National Research Council. 2014. Review of Army Research Laboratory Programs for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18963.
×

FACULTY AND STEM PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT, INCLUDING STUDENT DEVELOPMENT

There was uniformly enthusiastic support for the thesis that funds from ARL had contributed significantly to 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 new curricula at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

In many cases, the faculty have been innovative in blending graduate and undergraduate participation in their programs, using various means, including an opportunity to earn university credits for participating in research. The underlying idea is to start the pipeline for research early. The faculty believe that more minority students would move on to the Ph.D. program rather than seek immediate employment (e.g., in industry) if they were exposed to research as part of the undergraduate program.

The faculty generally believe that ARL funding has supported twofold benefits in their STEM programs. First, it fosters the interaction that transpires between the graduate students and the undergraduates. An informal communication network often develops in which students engage in dialogue and contribute time to help one another and to elicit insight into the nature of the research being conducted. Second, the funds permit the faculty to engage in dialogue with ARL counterparts as well as those at other universities. However, it was also noted that the ARL dialogue is not frequent or robust enough and that improvement is needed in this area by the ARL leadership. It was frequently observed that ARL needs to work with local faculty to develop an effective plan and process that increases the technical interaction between ARL researchers and university faculty and students.

EQUIPMENT AND FACILITIES

One may generalize about the lack of competitive facilities at HBCU/MIs relative to larger research universities. Several discussants indicated that equipment shortfalls of individuals (particularly those in start-up positions) and of multiusers in facilities were greater than those of top-ranked competitors/collaborators and that the small relative size of HBCU-related grants made equipment purchase and development difficult. In addition they noted that in many instances, minimal funds were available from university sources to provide maintenance and upgrades on equipment that had been painfully acquired. Important exceptions to this situation could be found in those centers of excellence that had grown over the years and 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 an HBCU are typically looking for fairly rudimentary equipment (new hires do not normally receive a start-up package; state funding yields buildings, but rarely equipment), while the proposal from a major university will evince existing infrastructure. Lack of technical assistance and minimal matching funds may also have an impact here. Furthermore, even if a proposal is successful, lack of continuing funding or related research funding may make a piece of equipment at an HBCU less effective after several years than it might have been at a large institution. All of these factors may lead ARL program managers to expect a lower potential return on an investment in an HBCU.

ADMINISTRATION OF AWARDS

The process of initiating proposals and managing grant and/or contract funding can vary markedly from one institution to another. Universities farther along on the research university development path will have strong central systems to support individual or group faculty efforts. By contrast, many HBCUs still find themselves in the situation where individuals must go it alone, without a

Suggested Citation:"4 Generalized Findings from Discussions with Selected Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions." National Research Council. 2014. Review of Army Research Laboratory Programs for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18963.
×

strong institutional support system, as they deal with the highly varied elements and processes of award administration, which differ not only between grants and contracts at ARL, but also from one funding agency to another. Administrative issues vary widely from one school to the next. Several specific examples are explored in Appendix A.

STUDENT ENGAGEMENT WITH ARL

An ARL goal for the HBCU/MI program is that students will become aware of and, to the extent possible, participate in Army programs. The funding and quality of research provide a relevancy that the students appreciate. While one unstated goal of direct student involvement is eventual employment at ARL to help address issues of workforce diversity, this outcome is neither anticipated nor measured by ARL. Faculty and students interviewed were well aware of the source of funding and, in most cases, the relevance of the research to Army goals (or at least to a stated ARL research agenda). However the student experiences varied widely from school to school and from one type of funding entity to another.

One important factor 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 not. Access to the ARL campus may be quite difficult to achieve for those foreign national students who are not U.S. citizens, limiting their participation.

Another significant issue is geography. It is not surprising to find that student visitation and direct participation in ARL activities are more readily supported for those close to the ARL facilities, especially in view of tight travel budgets.

Some of the responses from the institutions revealed the highly diverse character of student interaction opportunities with ARL. Summer internships at ARL present one very specific opportunity for direct student–ARL interaction, but they were viewed from two opposing perspectives by faculty. In one case an ARL intern characterized the internship as a great experience, especially for those who want to keep research connections with ARL, perhaps as a permanent hire. From another perspective, a summer internship, though valuable, could disrupt a student’s progress toward completing a project task, thesis, or dissertation, adding to the time it takes to earn the degree. Discussion considered the value of connecting the thesis/dissertation research to internship tasks at the beginning of a funded project so that time would not be lost. This would take some attentive planning on the part of the ARL program manager and the funded institution.

ARL–UNIVERSITY INTERACTIONS

Among the ARL goals for its HBCU/MI program is increased interaction between ARL staff and the faculty and students at the universities. This interaction could take many forms. The closest might be cooperation in establishing program goals, followed by direct collaboration at the ARL facilities and/or by the exchange of data, specimens to characterize, and other research information or samples. An intermediate level of collaboration might involve regular communication during performance of the grant/contract, with less involvement in project planning and less coordinated sharing of data, information, and samples. Minimal interaction might be limited to infrequent communication, primarily aimed at making the university personnel aware of the intended Army goals in sponsoring the stated research.

Staff at all interviewed institutions expressed a desire for ARL interaction; administrators and faculty frequently mentioned their desire for more frequent, direct contact with ARL and voiced some frustration that this was not happening.

The dynamics for early-career faculty often involve senior faculty who have the right contact(s) at ARL/ARO. Well-connected senior faculty play the role of finders of opportunities and mentors before

Suggested Citation:"4 Generalized Findings from Discussions with Selected Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions." National Research Council. 2014. Review of Army Research Laboratory Programs for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18963.
×

and during the merging of interests. Many suggested that this process might be significantly modified if serious local capability addressing Army needs and goals is the desired result at the HBCUs/MIs.

Many faculty members expressed the desire for greater participation in the development of the BAAs prior to their issuance. This would imply a very different relationship with ARL—namely, one in which strategic goals were mutually developed and shared. It would also be beneficial if ARL were to provide more detailed and timely reviews of research white papers submitted by HBCU/MI researchers. Specific comments on the quality of proposed research would be welcomed by local researchers. More feedback from ARL program managers on failed white papers and proposals would help faculty target for success.

ARL mentoring could also be applied to help find other elements of the Army that could fund the continuation of research work related to the original ARL funding—for example, the Army medical laboratories or other organizations within the Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, the home of ARL. It appeared also that single PIs could receive useful mentorship on connecting with other, non-ARO divisions of ARL for follow-on research support. A related discussion focused on assisting HBCU/MIs to get access to and time on Army/DoD equipment and facilities, including the Army’s major shared resources, such as supercomputing centers.

Suggested Citation:"4 Generalized Findings from Discussions with Selected Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions." National Research Council. 2014. Review of Army Research Laboratory Programs for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18963.
×
Page 21
Suggested Citation:"4 Generalized Findings from Discussions with Selected Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions." National Research Council. 2014. Review of Army Research Laboratory Programs for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18963.
×
Page 22
Suggested Citation:"4 Generalized Findings from Discussions with Selected Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions." National Research Council. 2014. Review of Army Research Laboratory Programs for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18963.
×
Page 23
Suggested Citation:"4 Generalized Findings from Discussions with Selected Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions." National Research Council. 2014. Review of Army Research Laboratory Programs for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18963.
×
Page 24
Suggested Citation:"4 Generalized Findings from Discussions with Selected Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions." National Research Council. 2014. Review of Army Research Laboratory Programs for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18963.
×
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Review of Army Research Laboratory Programs for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions examines the ways in which historically black colleges and universities and minority institutions have used the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) funds to enhance the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs at their institutions over the past decade. This report also considers which program elements reflect practices that are effective for assisting these institutions in enhancing the STEM programs and could be considered by other Department of Defense agencies for application to their programs.

The Army Research Laboratory has contributed to building up the human and infrastructural capacities in the past, and this report looks for ways to enhance ARL program impact on institution-building in the future, confident that more capable black and minority-serving institutions will, in turn, help America as a whole develop a more diverse and intellectually capable STEM workforce.

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