Memo to Campus


To        North Carolina A&T Faculty and Staff 
Fr       Chancellor Harold L. Martin Sr. 
Re        Strategy to Enhance Research Competitiveness 
Date    January 8, 2024 

The rapid growth in external research and sponsored program awards to North Carolina A&T State University over the past five years has increased fiscal year totals by an incredible $85 million, culminating in $147 million in awards for fiscal year 2023. Research expenditures are also sharply increasing, up by more than $15 million since 2016. Those awards and expenditures are reflective of a research enterprise that is growing in both accomplishments and aspirations and faculty researchers competing successfully for funding at the most emulous levels.  

In 2021, the Taskforce on University Research Rank: Potential for Transitioning to R1 led by Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development Eric Muth and Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering Dean Sherine Obare undertook a review “to ensure that we are strategic in advancing the institution’s research agenda.” The review would help the university better understand key areas of improvements to policies, processes, and investments needed to ensure continuing growth and competitiveness of research funding. The Taskforce focused on two overarching areas: 1) developing a comprehensive plan and strategy to increase state and federal investments in our institution to support various aspects of the university’s posture as a doctoral research university (including support for doctoral education; e.g., faculty, graduate students, research staff, and infrastructure); and 2) making specific improvements to policies and processes that enhance faculty and graduate student participation in research on our campus. 

Using 2020-21 as its initial benchmark year and projecting through 2029-30 (the end year for the university’s current strategic plan), the Taskforce examined four broad categories:  

  • Financial investments 
  • New academic programs and centers 
  • Recruitment/hiring processes and compensation; and 
  • Process improvements.  

The final report of the Taskforce offers excellent recommendations related to these four broad categories. These recommendations have been reviewed extensively with the Board of Trustees, Cabinet and Deans. The following sections provide a summary of progress made in implementing key elements of these recommendations during the past two years.  

I.      Financial investments 

Since fiscal year 2016, research expenditures at North Carolina A&T have steadily increased as our research funding has increased, reaching $48 million in FY22. Once FY2023 accounting concludes, expenditures are expected to exceed $50 million. That’s a critical benchmark: The new, recently released criteria for the Carnegie Classifications’ R1-Very High Research Activity designation establishes $50 million in annual research expenditures as a key threshold for membership.  

To further enhance the university’s competitiveness as a research institution, several of the Taskforce’s recommendations have already been implemented (others are continuing to be reviewed and prioritized for implementation), including the following:  

  • A total of $21.6 million has been invested in strengthening the university’s support of the colleges as research engines. That funding includes: 
    • $6 million in support for 43 new positions in the colleges. 
    • $10.6 million in new, enhanced state matching funds for agricultural research and the N.C. Extension Service at N.C. A&T. 
    • $5 million from the Engineering N.C.’s Future program in our College of Engineering.
  • A total of $5 million for enhancement of start-up packages invested in new faculty. That includes: 
    • $3 million to support faculty recruitment and retention 
    • $1 million in new start-up funding 
    • $1 million for purchase of new scientific equipment 
  • A shift of personnel within the Division of Research and Economic Development to state funding lines, freeing up $8.1 million for investment in doctoral education. That investment represents: 
    • $2.6 million in savings from reclassified salaries that were being funded with overhead monies 
    • $2.5 million in support for new doctoral programs. 
    • $2.5 million in additional support for graduate students. 
    • $500,000 for a new Strategic Research Innovation Fund, giving the vice chancellor of DORED discretionary monies for investment in areas of strategic value and timely need. 


II.    New academic programs and centers 

Over the past three years, N.C. A&T has gained approval to launch or has launched six new graduate degree programs: Ph.D. in Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, Ph.D. in Criminal Justice and M.S. degree programs in Physician Assistant Studies, Data Analytics, Cybersecurity, Criminal Justice and Health Psychology. 

The Taskforce recommended the following four new programs: 

  • Doctorate in Nursing Practice (approval expected at February 2024 UNC BOG meeting) 
  • Ph.D. in Sociology (approval expected at February 2024 UNC BOG meeting) 
  • Ph.D. in Applied Psychology (approval expected at February 2024 UNC BOG meeting) and
  • M.S. in Sociology (approval expected at April 2024 UNC BOG meeting).  
A&T has increased the number of doctoral degrees conferred in recent years as well, reaching 68 in 2022-23. Again, this moves A&T closer to the Carnegie Classifications' requirement of 70 research doctoral degrees awarded each year for R1 consideration. With five new doctoral degree programs either approved or under consideration for approval, we expect to increase the number of research doctoral degrees conferred, thus exceeding the minimum as required by Carnegie in the next couple of years.

The Task Force applauded the establishment of six new Centers of Excellence (COE) over the past four years as vehicles to advance research and scholarship throughout the university’s colleges: 

  • COE in Integrative Health Disparities and Equity Research 
  • COE in Educational Equity Research 
  • COE for Social Justice 
  • COE in Product Design and Advanced Manufacturing 
  • COE in Cybersecurity, Research, Education and Outreach 
  • COE in Entrepreneurship and Innovation 


III.   Recruitment and hiring 

Since 2020-21, the university has invested more than $1.5 million into start-up packages through the Office of the Provost for new faculty hires. As noted above, the Taskforce has recommended an additional $5 million in support to make employment at A&T more attractive for top research faculty.  Other university investments to recruit and retain faculty include:

  • A new sabbatical program (established in 2020 with funds from the Mackenzie Scott gift) has already supported six faculty awards. Additionally, using UNC System Faculty Retention funding, five faculty have been retained who otherwise might have accepted employment offers at other institutions.
  • A new seed grant program launched last academic year with $262,000 in Title III and Provost’s funds, which supports awards to new and promising research projects. Those investments help faculty pursue larger funding from federal, state, and private sources with initial results serving as critical proofs-of-concept.
  • A revised plan has been launched to fill each of the university’s 22 Endowed Distinguished Professorships across our colleges. To date, 17 of the 22 professorships have been filled, with six new Distinguished Professors joining us this academic year. Additionally, Division of Advancement staff continue to work with the provost, deans and me to continue to raise funds to expand the number of new professorships on our campus.
  • A plan to enhance salaries for most tenured/tenure-track faculty in early 2024. More about this plan will be shared later this month.


IV.  Process improvements 

The Taskforce also identified challenges in internal business processes, technology, facilities and hiring that have contributed to unnecessary burdens on our faculty and staff and less than efficient operations in certain areas that impact us all. The Taskforce members applauded a lengthy list of systems upgrades, new applications and process improvements implemented since 2020-21.  Other changes currently underway include:  

  • Implementing robotic process automation in enterprise business systems. The first five processes to undergo this process are now near completion. 
  • Digitization of operations. This will include hiring packets for new employees and enhancements to the ePAFS system, College Pads and Maxient. 
  • Upgrades in information technology. Since 2020-21, IT Services has completed a NIST SP 800-171 assessment, graphic processing unit (GPU) improvements for virtual desktops, implementation of online forms and process automation and improvements to the Genius and Guild platforms. 
  • Enhanced organizational structures. The university has established new associate dean positions to ensure each college now has at least two such leaders (two colleges each have three). New staff positions have been added to DORED, the new A&T Honors College, the Transformation Office and the new Division of Strategic Partnerships.
  • Addition of pre-award and post-award positions.  Several staff positions have been added at the college level since 2020-21. The Taskforce notes that three additional hires are planned for the current fiscal year and recommends a phased approach for additional positions through 2030. 


V.    Next Steps 

Recommendations from the Taskforce report for next steps include, but are not limited to, the following areas: 

  • Continued refinement of A&T enterprise business systems. 
  • Expansion of the Deans’ Enrichment Institute to strengthen administrative leadership within the colleges. 
  • Continued policy analysis by the Division of Legal Affairs and Risk Compliance in partnership with units to streamline challenging policies. Policies already under revision include guidelines for international travel, faculty workload and Graduate College investments and expanded administrative role (e.g., staffing, graduate programs marketing and student recruitment, improved graduate assistantship policies and funding, strategies to improve student success, graduate program reviews, etc.) 
  • Enhancement of gift and grants fund management to make receipting and expending such funds more efficient. 
  • Streamlining international and domestic travel processes. 
  • Continued engagement of campus users to identify and respond to process challenges. This will include more listening sessions in 2024 with select users of various systems and the launch of new short-term or intermittent working groups to tackle specific process impediments. 

I realize this represents a significant level of detail. I hope that the changes outlined here are as exciting for you as they are for me, as they represent important and strategic improvements critical to the growth and development of A&T as a competitive doctoral research university.   

As always, I look forward to opportunities to hear from you throughout the spring semester during Faculty and Staff forums, Faculty and Staff Senate meetings and other gatherings. Best wishes for a successful and exciting semester.  Thank you.