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Research Excellence, Expansion, and Innovation

As South Dakota's 1862 land-grant university, SDSU uses a unique tripartite mission, framed by the Morrill, Smith-Lever, and Hatch Acts: teaching and advising; research, scholarship, and creativity activity; and service (assigned professional and general). This concept paper focuses on research, scholarship, and creative activity. Research and scholarly work at SDSU can be divided into three categories, (1) research, (2) scholarship (including the scholarship of teaching and learning, SoTL), and (3) creative activities. 

Research

 

Research studies a particular problem, question, or issue; is often funded by competitive external funding and/or contracts with industry; involves graduate students, undergraduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and professional scientific staff; and results in new knowledge, applications of science, and the development of technology. 

Scholarship 

 

Scholarship includes research and explores researchable questions more broadly benefiting a particular discipline or field. A subsection of scholarship does include the scholarship of teaching and learning which focuses on improving teaching and learning experiences by developing researchable questions on this topic, collecting data regarding the question, and disseminating the results and conclusions to benefit the teaching and learning process for a diverse student population. 

Creative Activities

 

Creative activities may potentially reach a wide audience through creating public and private exhibitions; clinical practice in disciplines; planning and building of installations; conceptualization, development, and collaboration of performances (music, dance, and theatre); and the creation of public written work. Creative activities result in the enhancement of community, both public and academic. Finally, the development of intellectual property from research and scholarly activity may occur through these efforts. The Office of Technology Transfer provides an avenue to transfer the developed products to benefit all of society through proper channels while protecting the intellectual property of the products. 

Given that research, scholarship, and creative activities have different definitions and activities, this concept paper creates a parallel discussion when describing the current historical sketch, investments, and advancements for these activities. Faculty individually report their scholarship and creative activities on the Faculty Annual Review documents and the impact of each type of scholarship is often established in individual narrative. Research has systemic metrics collected (through grants and expenditures). Therefore, as SDSU seeks to expand and improve research, scholarship, and creative activities the metrics available to measure success include research funding and expenditures, participants, and products (publications, presentations, patents, exhibitions) need to be systemically collected, as well as track the broader impacts of the university research, scholarship, and creative activity (Tables 1-3 – see Appendix 1). 

 

 Lessons learned and historical sketch 

Historic Overview Research: SDSU has a mission of educating the diverse populace of the state and region in the sciences and arts with a particular emphasis on agriculture and mechanical arts (engineering). SDSU historically focused on educating undergraduates and emphasizing research activity in the area of agriculture (1887 Hatch Act) along with our 1994 land-grant universities in South Dakota. For example, research on documenting sacred plants and improving pasture resources on tribal lands. SDSU's research activity doubled from 2007 to 2011 as measured by grants and contracts. SDSU solidified its position as a research leader among state public institutions, elevating its overall contribution to research expenditures from ~25% to ~50% of the BOR system total grants and contracts (Fig 1). 

Line Graph
Figure 1. Grants and contracts award history fiscal years 2007-2016 for SDSU and the BOR system.

At its peak, SDSU’s research funding approached 20% of its operating budget. While SDSU enjoyed rapid growth, research expenditures declined significantly from 2011 to 2014 with a modest rebound in 2015. Examination of funding sources indicates that federal funds are the largest source of funding for research activity at SDSU and that federal funding has declined steadily from FY11 to FY15, despite growing inputs from the state (Fig. 2). 

Line Graph
Figure 2. Current trends in SDSU’s research expenditures by funding source.

SDSU made significant investments in research buildings and faculty over the years with eight new facilities, two in progress, and six significantly remodeled facilities. 

SDSU's ability to build and operate highly competitive research programs and to be the leading public institution for research in South Dakota enhances undergraduate education by engaging a broad spectrum of undergraduates in research. Experiential learning, an invaluable experience for graduate school and professional school, is a prerequisite for nearly all jobs in a STEM field. Furthermore, a strong research program increases the intellectual capacity of the university and promotes training at the graduate and postdoctoral levels, thereby preparing top-level STEM work force to drive knowledge/science-based economic development. 

Based on data from the listening sessions and from analysis of additional data provided to this committee, it appears that SDSU is at a critical juncture in its decision to prioritize science, engineering, and agriculture research. Development of a clear and effective strategic plan will be paramount for SDSU’s future success in research. Challenges include: 1) time fractionation of researchers that are also responsible for teaching, advising, and service activities, 2) burdensome hiring processes, 3) increased time spent documenting items for reporting purposes, 4) lack of critical mass in high priority areas. 

Historic Overview of Scholarship & Creative Activity: SDSU's landscape of scholarship and creative activity varies individually with different programs. Historically on a national basis, less external funding is available and garnered for scholarship and creative activities in comparison to research. Yet, in order to engage in scholarship and creative activity faculty require support, which is often provided by internal resources. For example, funds to travel to specific collections for study, to set up exhibits or performances, and to attend conferences. SDSU's development of schools as an organization supports scholarship and creative collaboration. School development's two goals includes philosophically connecting disciplines and to physically connect them by sharing physical space. The School of Design, established in 2014, brought together Architecture, Interior Design, Landscape Architecture, Studio Arts, Art Education, and Graphic Areas. The university is still working to bring this school together physically. 

Overview of University Strategic Planning Sessions: The university strategic planning theme-based sessions identified three university successes regarding research. These included: the BioSNTR, the National Children's Study, and ongoing industry partnerships. The BioSNTR and the National Children's Study are discussed in detail elsewhere in the paper. Ongoing industry partnerships were successful because they involved faculty that had industry experience and/or contacts, and were able to effectively "sell" the advantages of SDSU research to the company (e.g., research experience, facilities, nimbleness, flexibility, and IP rules). Lessons learned from successful industry partnerships included faculty patience to build connections within the industry field, as well as acknowledging that economic conditions impact partnerships and opportunities. 

Expanding Support Efforts: In order to support research competitiveness, most colleges have research grant coordinators, grant writing training, DC boot camps, and a Research Scholarship Support Fund program. In addition, there are a few endowed chairs. SDSU's positive initial steps for supporting research are at the early stages of development. 

 

National Trends & External Picture 

The National Perspective: The research enterprise at SDSU is at an early stage in its evolution when compared with most land-grant institutions. As the U.S. economy grew many land-grant institutions evolved into leading research institutions – making substantial contributions to science and technology in agriculture, environmental, engineering and biomedical research. In general, these institutions hold three tiers, as shown in Figure 3. 

Tier 1: Land-grant institutions that have risen to the premier level (e.g. University of Wisconsin). Institutions in this tier generally have R&D expenditures in the $700-1,500M/yr range and participate in full-service offerings including professional schools, business schools, and medical schools and thus have expanded their scope. 

Tier 2: Land grant institutions that have attained local, national and international research activity with R&D expenditures in the range of $200-700M/yr (e.g. Iowa State University). Institutions in this tier generally do not have medical schools; however, they may have some professional degree programs. These institutions have strong research programs often with nationally and internationally recognized centers of excellence. 

Tier 3: A number of land grant institutions that that have a more regional scope, but are aspiring to increase national and international influence, and are benchmarked with $50-200M/yr research expenditures (e.g., South Dakota State University, University of Wyoming, and North Dakota State University). 

Line Graph
Fig. 3. Research and Development expenditures for select land-grant institutions based on the NSF HERD data.

Tier 3 institutions have irregular results, with some showing remarkable growth like North Dakota State University, Kansas State, and SDSU- early dates. Other institutions in this group have seen stable to declining research expenditures. 

Line Graph
Figure 4. Comparison of tier 3 land-grant institutions research & development trajectories based on NSF HERD data.

The Local Perspective: The research engine of SDSU has been centered largely in the College of Agriculture & Biological Sciences Research programs in these areas generally have enjoyed strong support from a mixture of specialized funding sources (private commodity groups, Hatch fund, Sun Grant) as well as broadly competitive federal funding sources such as USDA. Supporting the research activities in these areas include modest research programs in the foundational 

STEM areas that have relied heavily on federal grants, including programs specifically designed to grow research and facilitate research excellence. These programs include the NSF EPSCoR track 1 and the S.D. Governor’s Research Centers. Significant growth in SDSU’s research engine has been made possible by strengthening research in foundational science disciplines which has been responsible for approximately 50% of the research expenditures in the state system. 

In many branches of science, university research programs are increasingly being viewed as partnerships with private companies and government laboratories. This growing trend evolved over the past two decades and has been driven by the needs of large corporations, government agencies, and small companies’ biotech to outsource sponsored research, utilizing research expertise at universities. This trend has been further accelerated by the growth of well-endowed university-affiliated and university-independent research institutes that are quickly becoming the premier scientific and engineering research entities. Examples include the Nobel Foundation, and regionally Sanford Research. 

The current landscape for federal funding is highly competitive with agency funding rates at approximately 10%. This statistic argues that for sustainable federal funding, top researchers must have the resources, support, and time needed to reliably produce highly competitive scientific ideas. It is unlikely that research funding will increase, and the greater likelihood is for reduced research funding in future years. Meanwhile, the number of Ph.D. level researchers continues to rise in the U.S. and globally. This "perfect storm" of reduced funding and greater numbers of applicants points to a future that will be even more competitive for research funding. 

SDSU researchers have traditionally focused applications to USDA, with lesser numbers of applications to other agencies. Due to SDSU's focus on agricultural research, this makes sense. However, USDA's typical research funding is quite low compared to other agencies, especially NIH, NSF, and DOD. Thus, to access a larger pool of research funding (such as Int’l Traffic in Arms Regulations and Export Administration Regulations controlled research), SDSU may want to consider diversifying research activities into areas supported by these other agencies, including controlled/confidential research contracts with the Department of Defense and the intelligence community. 

Strategic themes 

A quote from the “listening sessions” summarizes the overall strategic theme for research excellence, innovation, and expansion: “Communicate a clear vision for research excellence, develop a strategy to capitalize on our research assets (faculty, instruments, and resources) and implement with a group who can execute on growing the research enterprise.” 

Building a culture of research/scholarship/creative activity – Growing research/scholarship/creative activities by creating an inclusive culture of research/scholarship/creative activity (referred to as research culture throughout this section) involves deepening the appreciation for and values around research and scholarship to generate a greater level of focused attention with attentive listening. A second aspect of building a research culture will be acknowledging differentiated faculty roles and prioritizing dedicated time. A third aspect, creating targeted research foci, would require faculty and administration to prioritize research agendas. A fourth element of developing a research culture would include valuing time in the development phase of a research agenda as well as the successful outcomes. A fifth element of research culture development is valuing the development of common physical space for micro-cultures, whether that is building research centers in specific areas or schools in order to cluster disciplines. A final recommendation is to respect the differences in the micro-cultures and the diversity among researchers by acknowledging and valuing differences in faculty roles rather than treating them the same. 

Limited resources – Given limited overall resources and tight budget scenarios at all levels, which have been discussed elsewhere in this document, targeting directions for research and scholarship will be critical. This would include prioritization and decision making related to research priorities. Many top tier universities invest in a research development office (RDO; SDSU does not have one at present) that oversees how resources may be allocated in the most efficient way. An RDO can serve at the nexus of research and research administration to promote, support, strengthen, and grow the campus research enterprise. In addition, a balance of activities and resources toward prioritizing bench science versus creative activities may be needed. 

Implementation and growth of research centers - An effective mechanism to grow the productivity of the research enterprise is to cluster researchers into integrated teams, such as the GIS Center, and Governor’s Centers. This is most often successfully achieved through the grassroots efforts of the involved faculty self-assembled around common research interests. These teams often exist without any official designation, using terms such as "working communities" or "teams" to refer to themselves. Obtaining official designation as "centers" requires following BOR guidelines to gain official approval. An advantage of official recognition is that the team might be able to obtain support in terms of a share of recovered F&A and/or license income or release time for administration and research activities. 

Expansion of research at SDSU requires that: 1) SDSU enable research performance growth of the most competitive researchers possible. A modest number of faculty have expanded the research mission at SDSU through high performing research programs. These, along with new faculty who have the ambition and know-how to set up highly competitive research programs will be a key area of growth. Currently, the most research-intensive faculty are sprinkled across various units at SDSU and receive widely varied support and protection of research time. 

Properly defined expectations and sufficiently clear evaluations of faculty members is needed to determine if a faculty member has an appropriate level of support and if that faculty member is performing highly. Current departmental and college structures across SDSU appear geared toward academic excellence. Research areas are largely considered a secondary focus point. 

Identify specific mechanisms for supporting research. SDSU has long relied on EPSCoR funding to support key scientific areas; additional center-based revenue streams are needed. Key targets should include USDA CAP grants, NSF EPSCoR track II and NIH COBRE. Successful implementation of such centers will require commitment of the university to liberate faculty time from teaching and support structures that facilitate the highest level of research performance. 

A common theme to many of the research and research service centers was the need to grow strength from strong data science expertise. GISCE, BioSNTR, the sequencing center, and SDSU IT all rely heavily on data driven science. SDSU has a high concentration of researchers that utilize high performance computing and work with modestly “large data.” As such, SDSU has created an identity as the regional powerhouse in genomics (plant, microbe, animal and human), in image science (microscopy, satellite and remote sensing) and in some engineering fields such as fluid dynamics. Despite these strengths SDSU has been slow to create cross-disciplinary training programs in areas such as bioinformatics. A number of growth opportunities exist in working with regional and national partners. 

Risks to the system – With increasing research competition and a 10% national success rate, the university needs to work smarter. Shifting institutional culture to one that encourages and rewards high research/scholarly activity must be done in concert with an unwavering expectation of high research/scholarly integrity. Perceived pressure to perform at high levels and merit-based rewards may increase temptations to lower one's integrity standards and possibly lead to research misconduct like falsification, fabrication, and plagiarism. The SDSU community must ensure high levels of research integrity, beyond the minimum to meet compliance regulations, are maintained and not tolerate or accept activities or individuals who jeopardize the public trust in our research and scholarly work. Possible ways to work smarter includes: Leverage federal mechanisms designed to stimulate research - R15 eligible, new careers, EPSCOR growth in research strategies. 

Measuring impact of research and scholarship – There is a gap in how research, scholarship, and creative activities are tracked and evaluated. Currently, faculty report their research, scholarship, and creative activity individually through the Faculty Annual Review process. In order to track and measure progress, there is a need to collect data regarding progress in research, scholarship, and creative activities that captures the impacts of research and scholarship. This systemic recording would track progress and provide clarity of the research, scholarship, and creative activity landscape. Currently, Digital Measures, a university data package, is to be implemented this fall to support this. 

Options

Maintain status quo. The first option would be to maintain status quo with research being evaluated and decided upon in the current departmental structure and “allow” research centers to exist. 

developing an inclusive culture of research. This would involve prioritizing research/scholarship/creative activity time, creating targeted research foci, examining current use of F&A recovery/licensing recovery in order to support research culture, respecting the culture by valuing research activity development time as well as outcomes, developing common physical space for micro-cultures, and respecting the differences in the micro-cultures as they vary between research, scholarship, and creative activity by acknowledging and valuing differences in faculty roles rather than treating all the same. 

Strategically invest resources along the continuum of research, scholarship, and creative activities. This will balance our resources toward focused priorities. This path would likely mean that examining how SDSU uses F&A recovery and licensing recovery would refocus these funds to support current research as a reinvestment rather than funding other initiatives. 

Creating additional centers for strategic growth. Define clear research growth areas and create niches where research centers can flourish. This would require deans and department heads to fully buy into research centers and to be evaluated on the performance of the centers. 

Create an entity within the university that focuses on research strategy and coordination. This entity would organize research on campus thematically as opposed to departmentally. Coordinate efforts and leaders within research (Associate Deans for Research, Research Center Directors, and VRP Office) or creating a new Research Development Office. 

Creating additional schools - This option would continue the exploration of school development as an organization of disciplines. Three potential schools currently being explored are the School of Performing Arts, School of Communication and Journalism, and the School of Public & International Policy. This path would bring together, both philosophically and physically, disciplines in order to support ongoing collaboration in creative activities and scholarship. 

Improve on systems to track metrics and capture narrative impact for scholarship and creative activities in order to access system-wide success in these areas. Digital Measures, which has already been a university investment, will be implemented. Further examination of how this software package can continue to benefit the university and faculty will need to be explored as it rolls out. This path would need a caution regarding scholarship and creative activity that cannot be evaluated for impact in a systemic way, such as indicated by an impact factor, rather narrative explanation and valuation is more appropriate. 

 

Appendix

Table 1. Metrics used at SDSU to evaluate current success in research 

Type of Research 

Evaluation Process 

Used by Programs 

Grants 

Agency-Reviewed 

Widely used by programs 

Contracts 

Private Evaluation 

Widely used by programs 

Expenditures 

Grant/Contracts Office documentation 

Widely used by programs 

Publications 

Peer-Reviewed, 

Impact Factor 

Widely used by programs 

Technical Journal Papers 

Peer-Reviewed 

Widely used by programs 

Books, Book Chapters 

Peer-Reviewed 

Med. Lab. Sciences 

Conference Papers, Conference Abstracts 

Peer-Reviewed 

Widely used by programs 

Invited Papers & Guest Editing 

Narrative Evaluation 

Mech. Eng. 

Graduate Student Training 

Committee Evaluation 

Widely used by programs 

Post Doc Training 

Narrative Evaluation 

Widely used by programs 

Table 2. Metrics used at SDSU to evaluate current success in scholarship 

Type of Scholarship 

Evaluation Process 

Used by Programs 

Publications 

Peer-Reviewed 

Widely used by programs 

Conference Presentations (regional, national, & int’l) 

Peer- Reviewed 

Widely used by program 

Invited Presentations 

Narrative Evaluation 

Architecture; TLL, & HPPR 

Published books, book chapters & reference work (i.e. handbooks, teaching ancillaries) 

Editorial process, 

Narrative Evaluation 

Communication Studies, School of Design, Music, & TLL 

Undergraduate students faculty directed research or creative work that is disseminated 

Narrative Evaluation 

Peer Review 

School of Design, Journalism & Communication Studies 

Authoring a textbook as principal or sole author or editing a book 

Narrative Evaluation 

HPPR, & MLGS 

Published pedagogical changes in courses (SoTL) 

Peer-Review 

TLL, Nursing, & HPPR 

External grant proposals (submitted or funded) 

Narrative Evaluation 

Arch., Library, & JMC 

Trade articles with editorial review 

Editorial Review 

JMC 

Published encyclopedia entries, book reviews, plays, events, and essays in professional bulletins 

Editorial Review 

Narrative Evaluation 

MLGS, JCM & Theatre 

Graduate thesis work 

Narrative Evaluation 

Comm. Studies, JMC, TLL & Nursing 

Translation application of research to practiceNarrative EvaluationNursing
Participating in a transdisciplinary team in a clinical practice Narrative EvaluationNursing

Table 3. Metrics used at SDSU to evaluate current success in creative activities. 

 

Type of Creative Activity 

Evaluation Process 

Used by Programs 

Peer/patron-driven investigative professional practice 

Narrative Evaluation 

Architecture 

Awards in Discipline 

Narrative Evaluation 

Architecture 

Applied scholarship of performing, composing, arranging, and conducting & Ensemble performance or engaged public performance 

Peer-Review 

Narrative Evaluation 

Music & Theatre 

Creative Impacts (non-solicited feedback from professional colleagues, the public, students, & media reviews) 

Narrative Evaluation 

Music & Theatre 

Sponsored (public or private) media projects 

Narrative Evaluation 

JMC 

Participating in State University Theatre immersion, & PRT 

Narrative Evaluation 

Music, Theatre, & Dance 

Juried Creative Works, Exhibitions, Installations & Design of 

Public Buildings 

Juried Review 

JMC, School of Design 

Published novels, plays, scores, poems, essays, & films 

Editorial, Peer Review 

Music & English 

Delivering presentations at other universities, workshops, professional meetings or conferences 

Narrative Evaluation 

Peer-Review 

HPPR 

Performance Portfolio 

Peer-Review 

Music