N.C. A&T Charts Single-Year Growth of 30% in Sponsored Research Support

07/16/2021 Research and Economic Development

EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (July 16, 2021) – In a year in which universities across America struggled to meet the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic while continuing and launching new research, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University faculty brought in a record $78.2 million in scientific contracts and grants, a 30% increase over FY2020.

The $18-million jump over last year represents A&T’s strongest growth year ever in peer-reviewed, competitive funding awards for research programs and represents a total of $12 million in growth over its best previous single-year increase. The growth occurred across a range of disciplines and initiatives and signal A&T’s continued evolution as a doctoral-granting university classified as a “high research activity” institution in the Carnegie Classifications for Institutions of Higher Education. The vast majority of support comes from the most competitive funding arena: federal scientific agencies.

N.C. A&T launched a program six years ago called the Faculty of the Future Initiative that made hiring scholars with significant research backgrounds from leading research universities a priority. In FY2020 and FY2021, those faculty helped drive back-to-back record numbers of A&T research proposals submitted to federal agencies – 451 in FY20 and 494 in FY21.

Though FY2021 research funding overall increased only marginally at those agencies, A&T’s share of it rose disproportionately, thanks to the strategic growth of its research faculty and scientific infrastructure.

“As recently as 2011-12, N.C. A&T faculty were landing $51.3 million annually. To have realized growth of 53 percent over the ensuing decade is a tremendous reflection on the outstanding faculty, graduate students, undergraduates and research staff who each play a valuable role in the practical and often applied research coming out of our university,” said Chancellor Harold L. Martin Sr. “This further establishes North Carolina A&T as one of the state’s top three public research universities, provides additional learning opportunities for our students and contributes significantly to the university’s economic impact.” 

A&T also further advanced its position relative to other leading historically black research universities. Along with Howard and Florida A&M, A&T has led all HBCUs in recent years in federally funded research expenditures. The major funding growth for FY21 is likely to propel the university higher among the top three in expenditures.

The university’s largest awards included:

  • A $3.97-million NASA grant to Abdollah Homaifar, Ph.D., in the College of Engineering’s Dept. of Electrical and Computer Engineering in support of ongoing research to develop air taxis. The projected size and impact of this market is expected to reach $1.5 trillion globally by 2040, according to industry analysts Morgan Stanley Research.
  • A $1.5-million National Science Foundation grant to Reza Zadegan, Ph.D., for development of a DNA-based digital storage system, in which information bits can be written, stored and read in the form of mutational changes in DNA. This novel new approach to data storage holds the possibility of serving as an alternative to digital data storage as current materials reach their limits of sustainability and scalability. Zadegan is a faculty member in the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering.
  • A $1.1-million USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture award to Mohamed Ahmedna, Ph.D., to support the 1890 Center of Excellence for Student Success and Workforce Development. A top initiative among land-grant HBCUs, the center supports preparation of graduates for key agricultural professions across the country. Ahmedna is dean of the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences.

Additional awards of strategic importance this year include:

  • Narayan Bhattarai, Ph.D., secured a $550,000 National Science Foundation grant to develop biodegradable materials that will promote wound healing by notably reducing inflammation and scar formation. His research will address a significant challenge in the biomedical engineering field in that many implanted devices stimulate immune reactions that can interfere with tissue healing.
  • The MARC U-STAR Program. For nearly a decade, A&T has cultivated rising juniors interested in pursuing biomedical research at the Ph.D. level through the competitive National Institutes of Health’s Maximizing Access to Research Careers Undergraduate Student Training in Academic Research (MARC U-STAR) program. More than 70% of these MARC alumni have enrolled in Ph.D. programs at R1 institutions, with a retention rate exceeding 70% over the last five years. Checo J. Rorie, Ph.D., secured a $443,000 renewal award to continue and expand these efforts and will recruit and train 12 students each year.

A&T is also adding to facility, technological and organizational capabilities that will enable its research programs to grow further, including:

  • The Harold L. Martin Sr. Engineering Research and Innovation Complex, a $90-million state-of-the-art facility funded by a statewide NC Connect bond passed by voters in 2016, is slated to open this fall. The complex will serve as the site for rigorous teaching and research application for accomplished faculty and competitive students in the college known as the nation’s top producer of African American engineers.
  • Establishment of the 1890 Center of Excellence for Student Success and Workforce Development. The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture awarded a $1.1-million grant to A&T to enhance recruitment, retention and graduation of diverse students in related fields. The College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences will partner with other academic institutions including Tuskegee University and Florida A&M University to develop and test effective programs and serve as resource hubs for best practices.
  • Establishment of the Cybersecurity Forensic Hub for Women. A&T’s Center of Excellence in Cybersecurity Research, Outreach and Education (CREO) will partner with North Carolina Central University, Guilford County Schools and industry leaders to establish a safe place for young women and girls who may be experiencing cyberbullying in the form of malicious stalkerware downloaded to their devices. This malware can be used to track location and movements and access private information. Researchers will train and certify students to detect and remove the software free of charge.
  • Establishment of the Women in Design and Advanced Manufacturing Academy. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women made up approximately 29% of the manufacturing workforce in 2020, a figure that has remained relatively stagnant over the past 50 years. The Center of Excellence in Product Design and Manufacturing (CEPDAM) established the academy to recognize and further enhance support of women faculty and students in the field as they pursue research and funding opportunities, membership in professional societies and other activities.
  • Implementing Energy-Efficient Community Initiatives. The Center for Research and Technology (CERT) received three grants totaling more than $500,000 to bolster regional energy-efficient building construction and cost savings in low-income communities hardest hit during the pandemic. With federal CARES ACT funding appropriated to the state’s Department of Health and Human Services and allocated to the NC Department of Environmental Quality, researchers will:
    • manufacture and analyze an energy-efficient home serving as a research laboratory located on the university farm in order to model sustainable living
    • retrofit 15 to 20 low-to-moderate income homes near the A&T campus with various improvements including HVAC systems and insolation. The data will be used to assess and target costs and viability of the projects to inform best practices for future research
    • develop a paid, energy-related summer apprenticeship pilot program in Guilford, Wake and Halifax counties for 31 high school and college students.
“This is truly an extraordinary time to be part at North Carolina A&T,” said Vice Chancellor of Research and Economic Development Eric Muth, Ph.D. “I’m very proud of the incredible achievements of our faculty and their entrepreneurial, scientific spirit in growing our research enterprise.”
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