Research funding does well despite U.S. budget cuts

Cal Poly professors have made progress and positive strides in their existing projects despite budget cuts threatening to reduce the National Science Foundation’s budget.

Mustang Daily Staff Report

Budget cuts threaten to reduce the National Science Foundation’s budget, but Cal Poly professors are not too worried about grants for their research projects getting denied, they said. They’ve made progress and positive strides in their existing projects.

Research funding at Cal Poly is important because research projects make for better teachers and get students involved in their majors, physics professor Robert Holtzapple said. But it is not as easy for teaching schools such as Cal Poly to get funding for research projects as it is for major research and graduate schools who propose grants for National Science Foundation (NSF) funding.

“Even though I have research funding, I still have to teach a lot,” Holtzapple said. “Whereas the people at big research schools don’t have to teach nearly as much, so they have more free time to work on their research.”

Professors use their research grants to pay themselves and students for research work done during summer quarters. The results and data collected from research are used in the classroom to show students how what they are learning translates into real experiments.

The estimated budget for research and related activities funding is $5.6 billion, according to the NSF website.

“NSF receives approximately 40,000 proposals each year for research, education and training projects, of which approximately 11,000 are funded,” the NSF’s Web page says.

Holtzapple has a Research for Undergraduate Institutions grant which funds his particle accelerator research experiments at Cornell University. The grant is used to get students involved in his research, Holtzapple said.

Grants from organizations, such as the NSF, keep research projects going when state funding continues to decline, physics professor John Keller said.

Keller also has three research projects funded by the NSF.

“My most recent project that was funded is for a collaborator in Boulder,” Keller said. “And I too do a citizen’s science astronomy project that is going to involve putting telescopes, hopefully, in 40 communities from Mexico to Canada.”

Keller did not receive a straight “yes” or “no” answer for his grant, he said. Instead, he received partial funding for 10 telescopes for two years. Keller will see how successful the telescopes are at gathering information and getting members of the communities that the telescopes are positioned in involved, he said.

If Keller couldn’t fund his projects, he would not have time to do research and would revert back to teaching more, which would be a disadvantage for students, he said.

With less state funding, teachers need to rely on grants to fund their research projects, Keller said.

Keller also receives funding from the NSF for the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program. The program gives science, technology and mathematics majors summer jobs at major research labs.

“What the research program does is give people authentic experience at national research labs doing cutting-edge research, so they understand how the science behind their learning works,” Keller said.

Cal Poly has not always been a university that expected its professors to do research projects on top of teaching classes, Holtzapple said.

Each year, newer and younger faculty members come to Cal Poly, Holtzapple said.

Because Cal Poly is transitioning into becoming a research — as well as teaching — oriented school, new faculty are pressured to take on research projects that require more time than they can spend, he said.

The increased emphasis on research means the emphasis on teaching decreases, Holtzapple said.

This leads professors to compromise how much time is spent preparing for lessons and evaluating their students, Holtzapple said.

“I could see that maybe a new faculty member could say, ‘Well I don’t really want to grade a bunch of tests, so I’m going to give my tests as multiple choice on a Scantron.’ But I think in doing that, you compromise what you want your students to learn,” Holtzapple said.

Nicolette DeLuca contributed to this report.


Len Filomeo says:

Cal Poly buildings are so timeless. They will look just as UGLY 40 years from now as they do today. Case in point, the University Union.