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Office of the Vice President for Research


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Making an Impact

USC’s Office of the Vice President for Research has, since 2011, made major investments in the university’s research community at every level. Funding programs for student and faculty research have contributed to big gains in Carolina’s competitiveness, and made impacts on the development of individuals along the way.

When making investments in a research enterprise as large and robust as the University of South Carolina, it’s important to analyze the returns, and ensure that programs are having a net positive impact. We can see the benefits of the Office of the Vice President for Research’s (VPR) slate of funding programs through metrics like our growing competitiveness for sponsored awards as evidenced by setting new records, year after year.

But what about the human impacts? How do these programs benefit the individuals who receive funding for their research projects? It turns out, these personal stories provide a rich glimpse into the real-world benefits behind the institutional metrics.

The Research Initiative for Summer Engagement, or RISE program, provides summer research funding for faculty members at USC’s system campuses and Palmetto College, through a competitive application process. Like all VPR funding opportunities, this program is open to faculty in every discipline, which is especially helpful for scholars in the arts and humanities, who don’t have as many funding opportunities as their colleagues in the sciences and other traditional research and development areas.

Dr. Jeremy Culler, an assistant professor of art history at USC Aiken, made the most of his 2017 RISE award, traveling to Orvieto, Italy last summer to research archival material accumulated by the family of modern artist Livio Orazio Valentini, whose first American art exhibition took place at USC Aiken in 1997. By documenting and preserving this rare archival material, Dr. Culler filled a gap in the literature on Valentini.

Dr. Culler’s RISE research also contributed to his invitation to co-curate an exhibit on Valentino and another artist, Marino Moretti, at the Museo Opera del Duomo di Orvieto (the Cathedral Museum in Orvieto) and to his writing a text on Valentini for a 100-page exhibition catalogue, which he also edited for an exhibition he is curating for the University of South Carolina Aiken Etherredge Center Galleries. This exhibition, Livio Orazio Valentini: Orvieto Heritage and Aiken Legacy, will open during the South Carolina Humanities Council Festival in Aiken on April 12, 2018.  

As Dr. Culler’s RISE success story illustrates, VPR funding awards often lead to accomplishments that reverberate far beyond the initial project scope. That is true for Eric Montie, an associate professor of biology at USC Beaufort who has received several grants through the VPR’s Advanced Support for Innovative Research Excellence, or ASPIRE program.

Dr. Montie recently published an article in the marine ecology field’s leading journal, Marine Ecology Progress Series (MEPS), under the title Long-term acoustic monitoring of fish calling provides baseline estimates of reproductive timelines in the May River estuary, southeastern USA. "Marine soundscape ecology is an emerging field which allows us to record underwater sound ... longterm and at precise time scales," Dr. Montie explained. "These computationally intensive data sets provide information on key behaviors of invertebrates, fish, and apex predators. These behaviors may be altered by climate change, changes in water quality, chemical pollutants, harmful algal blooms, and noise pollution. In this paper, we have demonstrated that soundscape ecology is incredibly useful in estimating spawning timelines of ecologically and economically important fish species (e.g. black drum, spotted seatrout, and red drum) to the State of South Carolina ... all by just listening to our estuaries and quantifying courtship sounds produced by these species. Since water temperature and climate affects fish reproduction, we can use these techniques to understand how climate change may impact our fisheries."

Dr. Montie further noted, “Much of the funding for this work came from an ASPIRE I grant, ‘Using Long Term Acoustic Recorders to Understand Daily and Seasonal Patterns of Spawning in Sciaenids: Baseline Information Necessary to Understand the Impacts of Climate Change.’ The editor of the journal recommended the paper as a feature article, which is quite the honor.”

But ASPIRE funding has not led only to prestigious publications. Projects funded with ASPIRE grants have also laid the groundwork for new and growing lines of research, helping many individuals and collaborative teams of faculty members garner external research dollars that might otherwise have been difficult or impossible to obtain. Each successful sponsored award application leads to new and growing prestige and opportunity for the faculty recipients, along with amazing returns on investment. Over the five years between 2012 and 2017, the Office of Research invested just over $8 million in ASPIRE grants. According to the researchers who received these grants, the groundwork they laid with their ASPIRE awards has resulted in more than $120 million in new research awards. That represents a nearly fifteen fold return on investment, and a major boost to the careers of faculty recipients.

Faculty members are not the only ones who benefit from the VPR’s funding initiatives. The office also provides research funding opportunities tailored to undergraduate and graduate students.

Ferdinand Magellan organized the first voyage to circumnavigate the earth in the 1500s. Five hundred years later, his inspiration continues through a unique group of competitive funding programs supporting meritorious undergraduate student research, scholarship and creativity. USC’s Magellan programs are supported with VPR funds and administered by the Office of Undergraduate Research. Magellan programs offer a variety of financial support for students in every discipline, working with faculty mentors to ask questions and find answers through research, scholarship or creative projects.

Karlye Denner, a pre-med sophomore at USC Columbia was inspired to embark on her own Magellan journey, “when she began to notice the high number of Latino patients who seemed at risk for diabetes,” while volunteering at the Good Samaritan Clinic in West Columbia. So she applied for, and received, a Magellan Apprentice Undergraduate Research Grant, which provided the funding she needed to pursue this line of inquiry, first by collecting data on pre-diabetes indicators among the clinic’s Latino patients, and then reaching out to help them find solutions.

Denner’s Magellan-funded work is making a real difference in the community. “This isn’t research in a lab, we’re working with real people. I love getting to hear their stories and being able to work with and find ways to better help them live healthier lives.”

Social work Ph.D. student, Kyunghee Ma, faced a dilemma in 2016. She was having trouble securing the funding she needed to complete her studies, and was at risk of having to leave her program. Determined to keep trying, she applied for a 2016 Support to Promote Advancement of Research and Creativity, or SPARC, Graduate Research Grant.

Her project on Asian international students’ acculturation challenges and mental health, “was selected with very high scores,” Ma said. But, she continued, her success didn’t stop there. “The SPARC grant opened the door for another external grant for me. The combination of these two grants helped me jumpstart my dissertation project.” With her funding secure, Ma is completing her outstanding Ph.D. work, and no longer worrying about whether she’ll be able to finish her program, noting, “I am planning to defend my dissertation in November and graduate in December 2017. This is a dream-come-true for me.”

These stories of ever-expanding research success are proof positive that the VPR’s investment in the USC community make impacts that spread far beyond the confines of campus, enhancing lives and enriching individuals along the way.

13 December 2017