Research Awards Support Projects That Benefit Students, Community

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A seed fund created last year made its second round of awards to support faculty research that has the potential to benefit the University of Virginia community. 

The President and Provost’s Fund for Institutionally Related Research is intended to harness the power of UVA faculty researchers to improve the University itself – for faculty, students and staff – and to potentially serve as a model for other institutions of higher education. Proposals also support key elements of the University’s strategic plan, “A Great and Good University: The 2030 Plan.”

In the first round of this program, in 2020, the fund supported two initiatives.

Professor Joseph Allen, the Hugh Kelly Professor of Psychology, was awarded a grant to scale up and study the effectiveness of a program called “Hoos Connected.” In this program, a trained facilitator brings together groups of five to 12 first-year or transfer students so they can get to know one another while discussing key components of making meaningful connections. In similar studies, this effort demonstrated many positive effects: shared sense of community, improved feelings of belonging and confidence, and improved academic outcomes.

The second grant from the fund went to professor Marcel Durieux and a team at UVA’s Center for Global Health. In an effort to provide a rich global experience even in the pandemic, they launched a pilot of “eGlobal UVA,” a partnership with Rwandan scholars at the University of Global Health Equity in Butaro, Rwanda.

This year’s call for proposals netted 21 submissions from nearly every school in the University and several institutes or divisions. Faculty proposed a range of research studies that could improve the University, on topics including assessing and improving broadband access, enhancing responses to student grief, responding to grief from COVID-19, promoting healthier and sustainable buildings, improving the Honor Code, improving the pipeline for underrepresented individuals in science education, and enhancing disability access.

Two proposals rose to the top.

One, led by Bethany Teachman, a professor of psychology in the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, seeks to respond to the prevalence of mental health problems among students as well as faculty and staff, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Taking a page from the burgeoning field of mobile mental health services, the project will develop and test an online, app-based “Hoos Think Calmly” approach that will deliver personalized, context-relevant, mobile interventions for UVA students, faculty and staff. The program, which would be offered by computer, smartphone or tablet, will be a UVA-specific training program targeted to the University community and the specific stressors they experience.

The second project is led by Karen Inkelas, an associate professor of education. Relying on well-known body of literature on belonging, how to facilitate it, and its consequences for academic success, this effort aims to promote belonging and academic success among underrepresented students at UVA, with an initial focus on the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the College of Arts & Sciences.

Inkelas’ project received initial funding from The LMI Research Institute/Commonwealth Center for Advanced Logistics Systems and jointly from the Engineering School, the College and the Office of the Provost. The new funding will allow for a two-year extension of the project, incorporating the new challenges students experienced this year, including both the COVID-19 pandemic and the growing prominence of racial inequities in both the local and national discourse.

“We received a number of terrific proposals, so choosing just two was difficult,” President Jim Ryan said. “Provost Magill and I are nonetheless excited to fund these projects, which have great potential to benefit our community.”

Provost Liz Magill added, “These proposals really stood out as thoughtful, well-developed and doing what the fund is after: harnessing our first-class researchers to study ways to improve life at the University – for students, faculty, and/or staff – in ways that promise to make a meaningful difference. These highlight the power that research can have in furthering the greater good.”

The President and Provost’s Fund for Institutionally Related Research will accept another round of proposals this fall. Projects eligible for funding may include research related to attracting low-income or first-generation applicants or assuring their success; improving student mental health; helping fully realize the benefits of diversity and fostering a sense of belonging for all students; or any research to improve the quality of life and learning for UVA students, faculty and staff.

The fund is designed to provide initial support to launch projects that can either be completed with one-time funding, or, if they will require a larger investment, have the potential to attract longer-term funding from federal agencies, private foundations and other sources. The fund has an annual pool of $700,000, with a cap of $200,000 per award.

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Wesley P. Hester

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