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A Web Letter from the Office of the Provost - October 2021

By Mary Jane Chew

Purdue launches program to improve grant proposals, address societal needs

Delivering on our land-grant mission, how can we increase Purdue’s impact on society? One way is to consider societal impact on the front end as we plan our efforts, which will better ensure that we emphasize it in our grant applications.

Purdue’s newest professional development opportunity— the Societal Impact Fellows program— is arming Purdue faculty and staff with the training and tools to do just that. An inaugural semester-long class of a dozen fellows got underway this fall, and we are inviting the candidates for the spring to apply on Nov 1st.

The genesis of the program began with an invitation from the University of Missouri’s, Advancing Research Impact in Society (ARIS), funded by the National Science Foundation. Purdue and four other major research universities were asked to consider what each could do to meet the impact challenge. Purdue’s representative in that group, Associate Provost for Engagement Steve Abel, then brought together a Purdue working group of research and engagement faculty and staff— known as Purdue’s Advancement of Research Impact in Society (PARIS). PARIS, in turn, sought input from across campus.

Thanks to that feedback and input from PARIS, the initiative Purdue developed has components that are unique to the others seeded by the ARIS collaboration. For example, Purdue fellowship applicants are required to incorporate a key university initiative. This academic year, reflecting Purdue’s Equity Task Force Next Move  initiative, the fellows are exploring opportunities to impact black communities. Purdue also is unique in seeking to make sure the proposals represent all of university’s mission areas — the scholarship of discovery, the scholarship of teaching and learning, and the scholarship of engagement —instead of focusing on just one.

For the fall semester, the Office of Engagement selected 11 faculty members and one staff member for the program:

  • Omolola Adeoye-Olatunde, assistant professor, College of Pharmacy.
  • Brandon Allen, staff, College of Engineering.
  • Yaohua Feng, assistant professor, College of Agriculture.
  • Inez Hua, professor, College of Engineering.
  • Chrystal Johnson, associate professor, College of Education.
  • Nan Kong, professor, College of Engineering.
  • Pi-Ju Liu, assistant professor, College of Health and Human Science.
  • Krishna Nemali, assistant professor, College of Agriculture.
  • Philip Pare, assistant professor, College of Engineering.
  • Kathryn Seigfried-Spellar, associate professor, Polytechnic Institute
  • Pengyi Shi, associate professor, School of Management.
  • Rua Mae Williams, assistant professor, Polytechnic Institute.

The proposal from Hua is a good example. She proposes an environmental engineering project that will target urban heat areas, where elevated surface temperatures are caused by infrastructure and land cover. She points out that heat impacts electrical consumption, air and water quality, health and quality of life in areas often home to lower income and minority groups. But in addition, Hua said in her application, “Working with faculty mentors to clearly articulate the societal benefit of research projects would be a valuable addition to my skill set and would allow me to consistently integrate in a greater number of proposals. In terms of engagement, the fellowship would also support my development of strong connections with underserved communities, and a clearer understanding of community needs and perspectives….”

The project lead of PARIS, Professor Rod Williams, was named assistant provost this fall, and now oversees the Societal Impact Fellow program. While getting this effort underway, he also is in early conversations about broadening the effort to include our future scholars— graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

Fellows will receive direct feedback from mentors who have a history of successful engaged scholarship. The mentors for the fall are:

  • Lynn Bryan, professor, College of Education.
  • Stacey Connaughton, professor, College of Liberal Arts.
  • Liz Flaherty, associate professor, College of Agriculture.
  • Karen Hudmon, professor, College of Pharmacy.
  • Shelley MacDermid-Wadsworth, professor, College of Health and Human Sciences.
  • Sonak Pastakia, professor, College of Pharmacy.

Fellows will receive a stipend of $1,000 for participating and completing the program. Each fellow is to design at least an executive summary and logic model for a grant proposal by the end of the semester.  

What will success look like? More research proposals that not only have a better chance for funding but that also solve societal problems in ways that can be demonstrated, publicly shared and replicated.

Information about the program is available here.