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Rewards of Research: Students benefit from expanded scholarship activities

Editor’s note: The themes of RIT’s 175th anniversary, “Education, exploration and Innovation,” are deeply embedded in life at the university. As the celebration draws to a close, The University Magazine looks at one aspect of “innovation” – RIT’s expanding research activities.

Left: John Schott, director of the Digital Imaging and Remote Sensing Laboratory, and Sharon Daly í02 (imaging science) discuss an image from RITís airborne imaging spectrometer of the Lake Ontario shoreline. The work is part of the labís ongoing Great Lakes water quality studies.

When John Schott joined the faculty 25 years ago, he was startled to discover that RIT had no Ph.D. programs, and that very little research was conducted at the institute.

The young imaging scientist was determined to continue his research in the area of remote sensing and digital imaging. On the positive side, Schott recalls, “Nobody knew to tell me ‘no’ when I wanted to do something.”

But pioneering RIT’s early steps into the world of funded research proved to be a big challenge. There were no procedures for obtaining and administering grants, no staff to facilitate the process, and RIT had no history or reputation with funding organizations.

“I had to start from scratch,” says Schott, professor and director of the Digital Imaging and Remote Sensing Laboratory in RIT’s Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science. “I had to do everything myself.”

Despite “endless growing pains,” Schott’s efforts met with great success and helped launch RIT as a leader in imaging science research and education with the world’s first Ph.D. program in that field. While the Center for Imaging Science remains on the forefront of scientific inquiry at RIT, today research activities flourish in all eight colleges as well as RIT research centers. A growing number of faculty and staff are winning grants and contracts for their projects from agencies including the U.S. Department
of Education, National Science Foundation, NASA, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, National Parks Service and numerous private organizations and industry sponsors. Over the past six years, more than $132 million in funding has been awarded, with an average annual growth rate of 25.5 percent.

“It’s a paradigm shift for RIT. I believe RIT is on a path transforming itself from an excellent teaching institution to an excellent institution that integrates research and education.”

Marjorie Zack, director, Sponsored Research Services Office

Growth in sponsored research will continue: RIT’s strategic plan for 2005 – 2015, formally titled Category of One University: Uniquely Blending Academic Programs with Experiential Learning for Student Success, embraces and encourages research as a key component of scholarship.

“There’s an important reason for this, and it is spelled out in the strategic plan,” says Donald Boyd, associate provost for outreach programs. “The goal is to enhance education. Scholarship and research involving our faculty and students ensure that the students are engaged in the latest knowledge and provides them relevant experiences in a rapidly changing world.”

Historic partnerships
RIT has a long tradition of partnering with industry and government on applied research. Through the First in Class initiative begun several years ago, RIT’s laboratories and centers continue projects and outreach in a number of areas.

What’s new is the increased emphasis on proposals that come from inside RIT – generated by faculty and staff.

“Faculty-driven research is different from industry partnerships,” explains Marjorie Zack, director of the Sponsored Research Services Office. “With partnerships, there is consensus about the goals of a particular funded program. With faculty-

Fourth-year biochemistry major Naomi Lee works on polymer synthesis research with chemistry professor Thomas Smith.

driven research proposals, we say what’s important to us and propose our project to a funding agency or other sponsor that wants to achieve the same goals. The key is for a faculty member to come forward and say ‘I want to do this project.’ ”

Zack came to RIT in 1998 from Cornell University, where she was director of foundations and corporate relations for the College of Engineering. She was hired to establish an infrastructure to help faculty and staff identify funding sources, write proposals and administer grants.

“What we do is help people realize their professional and artistic dreams,” says Zack. As a measure of the office’s success, from 1998 through 2004 the number of proposals submitted increased from 102 to 1,013, and the number of proposals that received funding increased from 51 to 773.
“It’s a paradigm shift for RIT,” says Zack. “I believe RIT is on a path transforming itself from an excellent teaching institution to an excellent institution that integrates research and education.”

The university is taking steps to provide additional opportunities and support for faculty research. The Sponsored Research Services Office offers ongoing workshops as well as one-on-one assistance, and the colleges can help faculty make time for the work by reducing the teaching load.

Teaching and learning
The new emphasis on research has raised some concerns within the RIT community. Software engineering professor Michael Lutz, chair of the Academic Senate, worries that research can conflict with teaching. “It’s a different mission,” he says. “The vast majority of faculty I know at RIT came here because they wanted to teach. The pressure to do research makes them uncomfortable. There’s a fear that research could take away from the classroom and time spent with students.”

Provost Stanley McKenzie promises that teaching will not take a back seat to research at RIT. “The new strategic plan clearly states that scholarship at RIT is always for the purpose of enhancing student learning, either through the results of the scholarship being directly incorporated into the curriculum, or else through student participation in the faculty scholarship as an ‘experiential learning’ opportunity,” he points out. “We value scholarship, including research, as part of teaching and learning. These are not mutually exclusive, they are paths to the same goal.”

“You do research to generate an environment to teach students and create knowledge,” explains John Schott. “RIT is transitioning to appreciate that research and scholarship are important parts of teaching. In order to teach students at the very frontiers you have to be at the very frontiers yourself. You can’t read it out of a textbook.”

From his perspective as a professor at a highly regarded research university, Robert Harper ’80 (computer science) believes that expanding research efforts will prove to be a positive move for RIT.

“There are no disadvantages, as far as I’m concerned,” says Harper, who teaches and conducts research in the area of programming languages at Carnegie Mellon University. “Research keeps you on the cutting-edge of knowledge. Teaching and research go hand in hand. You cannot be a world-class institution without doing research.”

Knowledge and know-how
Tona Henderson and Elizabeth Lane Lawley are discovering the benefits of research. The two faculty members in the B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences won a $325,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study why women students drop out of information technology programs. They expect to conclude their two-year project this year, and they have received a one-year

Information Technology faculty members Tona Henderson, left, and Elizabeth Lawley received a $325,000 grant to study why women are more likely than men to drop out of IT programs.

extension to disseminate their findings.

They are vitally interested in the subject, but they also wanted to explore the funded-research process. “This was a chance to learn by doing,” says Lawley.

“Doing research requires you to read research,” she adds. “That’s beneficial to all of us. It keeps your brain alive, keeps you energized.”

“We’ve had the opportunity to meet with others around the country who share this concern about women students leaving information technology,” adds Henderson. “It’s rewarding to hopefully be a part of a solution. Plus I think it reflects well on RIT.”

The NSF funding pays Lawley and Henderson to work summers on the
project and covers some equipment and stipends for students who help with various aspects of the project. As with RIT’s historic co-op program, hands-on research experiences give students an advantage in the job market – or in applying to graduate programs. The work can pay off in other ways as well.

“My GPA has skyrocketed since I started doing research,” says Naomi Lee, a fourth-year biochemistry major. Last year she worked with chemistry professor Massoud “Matt” Miri on his polymer synthesis research (development of new types of plastic compounds). That work led to a summer internship at the University of Southern Mississippi, where she worked with Lon Mathias in the area of biodegradable polymers used in medicine. Her efforts resulted in a presentation at the university’s INSPIRE Conference last October. During the current school year, Lee has been working with chemistry professor Thomas Smith, also on polymer synthesis, including work that has applications in fuel cell development.

“Dr. Miri opened a window for me,” she says. “Working on research is so different from taking labs. I really felt like I was working at a higher level.”
Lee, who graduates in May, plans to go on to graduate school and ultimately to continue in the field of polymer research.

“Engaging undergrads in work like this allows them to see the application of their classroom studies,” says Smith, who came to RIT in 2002 after 28 years in the research labs at Xerox Corp. “We know that involving students in research is one of the best ways for them to learn. What I find is that once students become engaged in research they are more focused. Young researchers have a great deal of energy, they’re creative in their approach to problems. They can do amazing things.”

From black holes to national parks

Researchers throughout RIT are investigating a wide variety of subjects.
Following are just a few examples. Students are involved in all of these projects.

In the direction of the constellation Canis Major, two spiral galaxies pass by each other in this image taken by NASA’s Hubble Space

Stephen Boedo, associate professor of mechanical engineering, and his students in the Kate Gleason College of Engineering are investigating the effects of friction, lubrication and wear on the performance of microscale bearings. The research is supported by the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.

Improving energy efficiency at 375 national parks to conserve natural resources and save tax dollars is the goal of a project led by James Winebrake, associate professor and chair of the Science, Technology and Society/Public Policy Department in the College of Liberal Arts. Funding for the project comes from the National Parks Service.

Astrophysicist David Merrit of RIT’s College of Science, with collaborators from Cornell University, MIT and the University of Chicago, is studying the enormous bursts of gravitational energy resulting when black holes collide. The research is sponsored by NASA, the Space Telescope Science Institute and the National Science Foundation.

Kitren VanStrander, director of outreach education and training in the Center for Multidisciplinary Studies, and Jennifer Schneider, assistant professor in the Civil Engineering Technology, Environmental Management and Safety Department in the College of Applied Science and Technology, received a grant from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to assess the safety needs of small businesses and develop training materials to promote safety and health management

The International Center for Hearing and Speech Research (ICHSR) at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID), received a five-year grant from the National Institute on Aging to study age-related hearing loss. D. Robert Frisina, director of the center, is principal investigator of the project, working with a multidisciplinary team from the University of Rochester including William O’Neill, James Ison, Joseph Walton, and Robert D. Frisina.

Software Engineering Professor Jim Vallino and Computer Engineering Professor Roy Czernikowski received National Science Foundation funding to create courses on real-time and embedded systems and disseminate them to other colleges and universities.

Professors Nirmala Shenoy and Bruce Hartpence of the Laboratory for Applied Computing in the B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences are developing a wireless networks integration framework. The work is funded by a Cisco University Research
Program grant.

Amit Batabyal, Arthur J. Gosnell Professor of Economics in the College of Liberal Arts, won a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to apply economic theories to the problem of invasive species management.

Suzanne O’Handley, Maureen Ferran and Hyla Sweet, assistant professors in the College of Science, have received Academic Research Enhancement Awards from the National Institutes of Health for three behavioral and biomedical research projects.

The Printing Applications Laboratory, led by Director
Bill Garno, conducts applied research and educates industry employees through more than 150 industry-supported projects per year.

Satish Kandlikar, Gleason Professor of Mechanical Engineering in the Kate Gleason College of Engineering, received his second IBM Faculty Award recognizing his research into computer chip cooling and microchannels. The award includes a grant from IBM for future research. He is on the research proposal review panel of Fluid Physics NRA, part of NASA’s Physical Sciences Division, and is currently working on projects sponsored by General Motors Corp. and the National Science Foundation.

Research produced by Bruce Oliver, professor of accounting in RIT’s College of Business and director of RIT’s Center for Business Ethics, measures the structure of the personal value system of corporate managers. His findings, “Another Ingredient Contributing to Recent Audit Failures:
A Study Providing Insights on Management Integrity,” were presented in the Proceedings to the Northeast Business and Economic Conference in Parsippany, N.J.