Rowan University launches $250K fund for diversity-focused research

Rowan University launches $250K fund for diversity-focused research

By Michelle Caffrey

The Philadelphia Business Journal

April 4, 2018

Drive through Glassboro, New Jersey and Rowan University’sexplosive growth over the past decade is on full display, from the crowds of new students to its now sprawling footprint downtown.

What’s not as easy to see is the significant increase to the university’s research initiatives over the same time period. Sponsored research funding grew from $9.1 million in 2012 to $34 million in 2016.

It was visible, however, in the student center's Eynon Ballroom last week as 300 attendees gathered to see nearly 80 faculty members step out of their offices and labs to present their work at the university’s first ever Faculty Research Day.

The event was a chance for professors’ and physcians’ to show off years of research and cultivate connections among the Rowan community, and it also provided a stage to launch a brand new, $250,000 research fund designed to back faculty, students and staff projects that focuses on diversity.

The Rowan Research Experience for Diversity and Inclusion (REDI) is separated into two categories, one for faculty and one for students, said Beena Sukumaran, the president’s fellow for diversity and inclusion.

Faculty projects that dig into a problem related to diversity or have the potential to have a positive impact, whether just on campus or nationwide, are eligible to receive a maximum award of $5,000, and student-led research projects can receive renewable awards of $2,500.

The university is also focusing on how to make its own classrooms more inclusive through the Program for Inclusive Pedagogy and Educational Reform (PIPER). It draws funding from a $1.92 million National Science Foundation grant Sukumaran received in 2016 to improve diversity in the engineering field called Revolutionizing Engineering Diversity (RevED) — the biggest NSF award any Rowan faculty member has ever received. PIPER will also award up to five $5,000 grants each year to faculty or staff working on how to make the classroom environment, syllabuses and teaching methods more accessible to students of diverse backgrounds.

“We want our faculty and students to be thinking about how the university does research to advance diversity initiatives as well as how to make their spaces more inclusive, how are they assessing the needs of underrepresented students, minorities, women, LGBTQI [students] and how are they addressing some of those needs through their research activity,” Sukumaran said.

REDI is a joint effort between the President’s Office and the Office of Research, which provided the funding. The awards will be distributed by the Rowan University Foundation. The selection process for the first funding round is already underway. Five faculty projects will be chosen along with five student projects.

Sukuman said she is hopeful the $250,000 in funding won’t be a one-time commitment and will become an ongoing opportunity.

The provost’s office and president’s office teamed up to launch the PIPER grants using the RevED grant funding and support from the Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning.

"President [Ali] Houshmand is very committed to access and making sure that we are an inclusive space that students from various backgrounds can thrive here," Sukumaran said. Houshmand made news last fall for selling jars of hot sauce, using his personal recipes, to raise money for students struggling to pay tuition.

Given Rowan’s original identity — a small, rural college to train teachers — the rollout of PIPER completes the circle, an example of how the university scaled its reach and expanded offerings while doubling down on its core strengths in the education and engineering fields.

“We do feel we are at the cutting edge of research on this front, especially in the STEM professions,” said Sukumaran, who has an extensive background in geotechnical engineering. “We have had trouble attracting broader swatches of the population to our profession. It does not look like the general population, we’re not representing diversity either by New Jersey’s demographics or national demographics. So how do we change that?”

Sukumaran's answer isn’t a surprise — by staying at the forefront of that research.



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Date Published: Wednesday, April 4, 2018 - 12:00
Source URL: The Philadelphia Business Journal