Research Spotlight: Office of Research and Sponsored Programs
During the 2018 fiscal year, Illinois State faculty and staff brought in more than $24 million in external grant funding. Most of this money went to cover expenses related to research. The total was the third highest in the University’s history and put into hard dollars the University’s commitment to ensure research is an equal pillar, along with teaching and service, of education at Illinois State.
President Larry Dietz has led the push for an increased focus on research in recent years and, through Associate Vice president for Research and Graduate Studies John Baur, has empowered the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs (RSP) to follow through on that initiative. The 12-person office works to assist faculty with looking for, submitting, securing, and managing grants.
We spoke with RSP Senior Director Jason Wagoner about the office. The Q&A has been edited for brevity and clarity.
What have you tried to change in your office since you arrived in 2014?
We’re really trying to change the culture that campus supports research. One of the things that I noticed when coming it was that research was seen as an administrative process and not a core of the mission from the administrative side. In the five years that I have been here, the leadership has done an excellent job of addressing this misconception. In addition, RSP has tried to convert that philosophy that we are here to support a pillar of the institution. Our job is not to find barriers; our job is to find solutions.
What is RSP’s focus?
Faculty members do an awesome job of pressing the boundaries of what the institution can do by proposing innovative approaches—whether it be new server space, whether it be new staff, things like that. I think that’s good; it causes growth over a long period of time. Our job is to be aware of and be supportive of the needs of individuals that are seeking to apply for and receive grants from external parties. But we also have to be prepared to navigate how the institution can actually deliver those services.
Where do you get involved in the grant process?
We talk with the researcher about how to build a proposal, asking them questions like, What kind of literature review do they need to do? Different things like that.
We do a lot of support at the college departmental level to help identify faculty members that are going to be ready and move forward, but then it’s also investing in them, helping them understand how the process works, and making them ready for it. When they actually apply for a grant, it’s really stressful for them, so we want to reduce that stress level.
How do you help faculty find external funding?
It’s not an easy thing to do, and it’s a very collaborative process. We have a database structure called GrantForward. It’s a third party subscription software that we encourage people to utilize, and they can actually build a profile within it. It helps them get regular monthly returns that should be consistent with what their projects are, so it’s an easier way for all of us to stay in touch with some of the things that come up because grants are very cyclical.
Can you talk about the internal grant search engine on your website?
When folks join the institution, they get a startup package, and that gives them some funding. That funding is very low dollar, and it’s probably not enough for them to sustain their research enterprise throughout the course of their career. At some point they’re going to have get money, but not everybody is going to be able to get external money. We have built programs that give internal university dollars for research initiatives on campus. And those are competitive processes, and we want people to apply for and receive funding on those.
For more information about Research and Sponsored Programs, visit Research.IllinoisState.edu.