This article was contributed by Stuart Borrett serves as the Associate Provost for Research and Innovation and the Chief Research Officer of UNCW.
Research and innovation have the power to discover new knowledge, solve complex problems, and enhance the economic and cultural vitality of communities. Research is a core mission for universities, and the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) set a goal to increase its research productivity. Have you wondered why?
One answer is provided by Jason Owen-Smith in his 2018 book titled “Research Universities and the Public Good: Discovery for an Uncertain Future.” He argues that the fundamental purpose of the university is knowledge. He then considers two components of this purpose. Knowledge production is the outcome of research and scholarly activities, and knowledge transfer is the university’s work in education, teaching, and other forms of technology transfer. One of the foundational premises of the modern university is that knowledge production and transfer – research and teaching – are each enhanced when they are intimately entwined. They create a virtuous cycle that is fundamental to universities.
Another explanation for growing research productivity at UNCW is to focus on its functional impacts. There are four common clusters of functional impacts including knowledge expansion, development of human capital, quality of life, and economic development. UNCW research exhibits a mix of all these impacts, which I illustrate with a few examples.
Dr. Blake Ushijima and students in his laboratory research stony coral tissue loss disease, which is killing coral in the Caribbean Sea. They investigate the causes, consequences, and ways to treat this disease that is impacting species foundational to building coral reef ecosystems.
To prevent neck and traumatic brain injuries, Dr. Lindsey Schroeder and Dr. Alex McDaniel developed a novel portable neck strength assessment procedure and device. Strong necks tend to prevent injuries, and measuring neck strength is essential to knowing the effectiveness of strengthening exercises. This innovation may have important applications for both sports and military injury prevention.
UNCW’s nanosatellite, SeaHawk-1, was fully commissioned last year. This project demonstrated the ability to rapidly develop lower-cost satellites to support earth and ocean observation. The satellite produces high-resolution images that are visually stunning and enable the world’s oceanographic community to better observe and study coastal oceans. UNCW researchers have partnered with other universities, commercial companies, and with NASA for the satellite operations
Dr. Adam Jones and others in the Cameron School of Business conduct research in partnership with the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce and Cape Fear Future to generate the Wilmington Regional Economic Score Card. This informs community leaders about regional economic progress and supports economic decision-making.
These examples scratch the surface of UNCW research and its impacts. I have not yet highlighted how researchers in the Watson College of Education advance effective teaching for diverse learners from pre-kindergarten through higher education, or how projects like the National Drug Court Resource Center improve the outcomes of treatment courts across the nation. Thus, I encourage you to learn more about these and other research activities at research at http://uncw.edu/research/.
Let me close this essay by considering several dimensions of the economic impacts of UNCW research. First, graduating students who have participated in knowledge production contribute to workforce development and the economy. Owen-Smith asserts that this is the largest form of technology transfer from universities.
Second, UNCW commercializes intellectual property produced by its researchers. This is an important mechanism to move innovations out of the laboratory and into the world making a difference.
Third, entrepreneurial university researchers have created commercial companies. Lapetus Solutions, Inc. and SeaTox Research Inc. are two success stories. A fourth impact is through the university research expenditures, which in fiscal year 2020 were $16.5 million dollars. Most of these expenses (85%) were funded by external sponsors (e.g., federal, state, and local governments, businesses, and non-profits).
Fifty-one percent of these expenses were for wages for research personnel, including students. Thus, these externally supported expenditures support important discoveries, contribute to local economic development, generate high-quality learning opportunities, and provide direct financial support for students.
In summary, there are many positive impacts of university research and innovation work. It produces new knowledge, contributes to academic excellence and improved student learning, and a variety of economic impact. I am excited to support the growing UNCW research enterprise, and I cannot wait to see the impacts it produces in the future.
For information about the UNCW research enterprise and its growing impacts, please visit uncw.edu/research/.
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