It has been said that the cure for AIDS/HIV, COVID-19, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, cancer and other diseases will come from a college graduate. The data for these discoveries will come from our collective research. The next source of energy, such as a new battery or a new system to harness energy from the Earth, can even come from a student today – soon to graduate, in a place as simple as HSU. This is what makes academic research so important.
In a university, there are many sources of funding; and each has a straightforward set of guidelines. Granted, there are the two obvious sources of funding: state funding as well as tuition and fees. There are also other alternative sources, some from auxiliaries or other businesses, such as the bookstore. There is another, which we follow closely as a campus and use as a strength to recognize our faculty and staff. I am referring to external grant and research funding from a university.
At Humboldt, it’s no exaggeration to say that we punch above our weight when it comes to research. We have been focused on increasing our overall level of grant support for many years, led by amazing faculty and staff across campus. Their expertise and hard work, along with the support of our Office of Research and Foundation Sponsored Programs team, have expanded the practical research opportunities for our students.
Simply put, undergraduate students working with faculty on grant activities is not only an incredible opportunity for faculty, but also for students. Both benefit greatly from this opportunity, as does society. For professors, it strengthens their academic profile (often referred to as scholarship) which is then later used by other scholars for their research. It is also for individual advancement in stature, rank and pay. For students, it is primarily an acquired skill and now an attribute that could be used in their future work. There is no doubt that it is also a major part of the curriculum vitae that allows students to potentially work in their respective field.
HSU is a teaching-oriented institution. HSU also takes great pride in its “learning by doing” philosophy, often referred to as “hands-on learning.” At least 95% of HSU graduates have hands-on learning experiences during their student stay. This makes them more marketable and ready for the job market. This set of opportunities is a major part of being a polytechnic. It’s a foundation, or area of focus, that we already have as a campus and are very proud of.
Undergraduate research is what we call “high impact practice”. It has benefits for our students such as increased likelihood of completing college, increased chance of going to graduate school, enhanced analytical skills, enhanced public speaking skills. It has proven to be particularly good at retaining and opening up career opportunities for traditionally underrepresented students. Among institutions of our type, we are #8 in the nation and #1 in CSU for STEM graduates pursuing their Ph.D.
The past few years have seen a particularly dramatic growth in research funding at Humboldt. Last year, there were 301 new grant proposals, requesting $84 million, which is an all-time high. There were 183 new prizes totaling $30 million. The campus has 520 active ongoing projects with a total value of $96 million. Humboldt State ranks sixth in our annual awards average among the 23 campuses in the California State University system. The other five campuses, for general information, are San Diego, San Jose, Fresno, San Francisco, and San Bernardino.
And it just dropped: In the first six months of the current fiscal year, we received over 100 new awards totaling $26.2 million.
What makes this particularly unique is that we don’t have an abundance of graduate students. Although HSU has graduate programs and tries to expand them, our efforts are primarily aimed at undergraduate students.
And all this with the polytechnic designation still pending. Imagine the greatest opportunities with designation, lab upgrades, a new science building, and new research facilities.
Research funding can be found in many places. At HSU, there are many run by perennial stars of grant funding, including the Schatz Energy Research Center, our Small Business Development Center that serves 36 counties, and the California Center for Rural Policy. There are others, large and small, run by different centers or by individual teachers.
• Our stem cell research program, led by Professor Amy Sprowles, recently secured $3.6 million for student internships. It will fund a diverse group of 10 undergraduate and graduate students each year for the next five years.
• A $250,000 USDA grant will fund ¡Échale Ganas!, a hands-on learning support program for Latino/a students in science, technology, engineering, and math. It is led by Professors Matt Johnson and Rafael Cuevas-Uribe in collaboration with Fernando Paz from our El Centro Académico Cultural.
• A $950,000 grant will help 60 paid students and hundreds of students in total to research carnivorous plant colonizing microbes. The project is led by Professor Catalina Cuellar-Gempeler.
There are many, many more.
Going forward, Humboldt will build on its research strengths and increase its ability to support the work of researchers, while providing incredible experiences for students. The knowledge gained will help other researchers and lead to societal improvements.
Dr. Tom Jackson Jr. is the president of Humboldt State University.