Millions in Federal Aid is Stimulating CUNY Programs

Andrew Beveridge
Queens College sociology chair Andrew Beveridge and collaborator Elena Vesselinov received a $144,995 NSF grant to study "The Distribution and Social Impact of Mortgage Foreclosures in the United States."

From research grants to energy-saving building upgrades to workforce development contracts, millions of dollars in federal stimulus funds have been awarded to University projects and programs, less than a year after Chancellor Matthew Goldstein championed higher education as critical to the nation's economic recovery efforts.

President Obama's sweeping American Recovery and Renewal Act (ARRA) is making billions of federal dollars available to educational and research institutions through federal, state and city agencies, exciting researchers and setting off a flurry of grant proposals from CUNY. The funds have started to come in, as grant seekers across the University contemplate new submissions or await word on their applications.

"The Recovery and Renewal Act is providing more opportunities for our scholars to pursue their cutting-edge discoveries, and for the University to expand its role as New York's leading provider of highly trained health care workers, teachers and 'green economy' employees," said Chancellor Goldstein, who last year led efforts to spotlight the economic challenges facing public universities. Goldstein and Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, convened a summit of higher education leaders - including the heads of CUNY, SUNY and state systems in California, Florida, Arizona and Wisconsin - last October and spoke with Obama's transition team about the need for investment of federal stimulus funds in public universities, colleges and community colleges, which educate the majority of the nation's work force.

ARRA, signed by Obama in February, targets the stimulus funds for higher education to research, development and training. Investments in renewable energy and job creation are also key goals. As of late July, at least 30 projects reflecting those priorities had been approved for stimulus funds, to be allocated through federal and city agencies.

Two CUNY websites - American Recovery & Reinvestment Act and Funding Opportunities - have been created to detail funding opportunities and provide links to allocating agencies. CUNY's Office of Research, and grants offices at the colleges, are assisting faculty in submitting proposals, modifying and resubmitting earlier submissions, and requesting supplements to existing grants.

"With these two websites up, we are getting a tremendous amount of interest across the University," said Allan Dobrin, executive vice chancellor and chief operating officer. "People are looking at the websites, thinking about applying."

More than $15 million of the CUNY stimulus funds granted so far is for research, mostly in science, some in the social sciences, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), NASA and other agencies, said Vice Chancellor Gillian Small.

The funded projects span groundbreaking scientific inquiry and research with a timely edge. They include a $680,000 NSF grant for Hunter College chemistry professor Nancy Greenbaum's exploration of the "splicing" mechanism critical to development of RNA molecules, and Queens College sociology chair Andrew Beveridge and co-Principal Investigator and collaborator Elena Vesselinov's $144,995 NSF grant to study "The Distribution and Social Impact of Mortgage Foreclosures in the United States." Anthropologists Sophia Perdikaris and Thomas McGovern were awarded more than $1.1 million in NSF funds for "Islands of Change," a Research Experience for Undergraduates historical ecology project investigating people's relationships with changing environments, including climates, in Iceland and Barbuda, West Indies.

College of Staten Island's Teacher Academy, an honors program for incoming freshmen wishing to major in mathematics, biology or chemistry, received $839,000 from the NSF for scholarships to train 29 mathematics and science teachers for grades 7-12. York College received a similar NSF grant of nearly $900,000 for a similar teacher training program.

Overall, funds requested for research exceed $90 million, including 64 submissions for $39 million in new NIH "challenge grants" for health and science research, said Vice Chancellor Small. Included are funds NIH and NSF may approve to renovate science facilities and provide instrumentation necessary to the funded research.

"Clearly, the stimulus has stimulated many of our faculty to write grant proposals," she said. "We understand they might not all be funded, but we'd like to keep the momentum going."

Small noted that much of the stimulus money awarded to University researchers thus far is for existing or ongoing proposals and projects. The ARRA opportunities - at least $26 billion is expected to go to research nationwide - are "a good thing for CUNY" at a time when the University has been "ramping up" research efforts amid a generally grim funding climate, she noted.

While much of the stimulus money is targeted to research, funds also are going to job creation and "green" projects - sectors where CUNY is attaining prominence.

Borough of Manhattan Community College received $11 million in federal stimulus funds for an extensive environmental upgrade - 10 projects to boost the energy efficiency of mechanical and electrical systems at its main building at 199 Chambers St., for an annual cost savings of more than $1 million. When completed, the upgrade, funded through the Mayor's New York City Department of Energy Management, is expected to reduce BMCC's annual electrical energy consumption by more than 4 million kilowatts, and shrink its carbon footprint by approximately 5,400 metric tons of CO2.

Some $15 million in stimulus funds have been allocated by the New York City Department of Small Business Services for new health care programs at LaGuardia Community College and for expansion of nursing, radiologic, EMT and other health care training at New York City College of Technology, Kingsborough and Queensborough Community Colleges and College of Staten Island.

"Federal workforce funds are being invested in intensive, long-term education and training programs in a way that they haven't been before," noted Suri Duitch, University director of adult and continuing education. "The city is paying for people to get degrees in nursing. There's no better investment. It's a very big deal."

Recovery monies may also partially fund projects that touch CUNY. For example, $5 million in ARRA funds are part of an $11.8 million U.S. Department of Energy investment, announced July 29, in five solar energy grid integration systems aimed at lowering energy consumption and Americans' utility bills. LaGuardia Community College is partnering with Princeton Power of Princeton, NJ, on one of the DOE-funded projects, focusing on lowering manufacturing costs through integrated controls for energy storage.

Some at CUNY viewed the stimulus funds' availability as a positive reflection of changing federal priorities.

"It's led to a real renewal," said professor Greenbaum of Hunter. "There is going to be an improved emphasis on research ... which not only makes it possible to do our science, but enables us to educate students, training young people for the next generation of researchers.

"The money is being offered and spread out in such a way, as to enhance the entire climate," she added. "May it continue."