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Research enterprise ranking reported for 1996 by NSF

By Susan Trulove

Virginia Tech's $143.8-million research enterprise ranked 51st in the nation for the year ending June 30, 1996, according to the National Science Foundation's Early Release Table, issued last week on the Internet (http://www.nsf.gov/sbe/srs/academ96/start.htm). Virginia Tech ranks fourteenth among colleges and universities without a human medical facility and 34th among public colleges and universities.

The NSF figure includes both research sponsored by federal, state and private sources, and unreimbursed research. The latter includes the cost of maintaining facilities.

Although Virginia Tech's total expenditure activity reported to NSF declined from the previous year by almost $5 million, sponsored dollars for research, instruction, and Extension grew in FY 1995-96-from $79.7 million to $81.7 million or 3 percent, according to Tom Hurd, director of the Office of Sponsored Programs.

"This was good news in light of our shrinking faculty numbers year before last, and the declining resources to do research in some sectors important to Virginia Tech," said Len Peters, vice provost for research and dean of the Graduate School. "With fewer faculty members and a more competitive environment, we-that is, the faculty-managed to leverage a relatively little bit of institutional investment, as compared to some of our peers, into a respectable research program that supports students, keeps research facilities updated, and serves the state and national well-being."

In the most recent year reported-the year ending June 30, 1997, the university's total research enterprise grew 9 percent to $155.7 million, and sponsored activity grew 7 percent. The NSF ranking for FY 1996-97 will not be available until January 1999 but it is anticipated that the significant 9 percent increase will return the university to the top 50

An area of consistent growth in sponsored funding, particularly in the past two years, has been interdisciplinary research. "Virginia Tech is strong and well-recognized for interdisciplinary research in areas related to materials, biotechnology, and communications, for example," Peters said

Trends in funding sources continued in 1996-97. "Funding from industrial sponsors was level but federal expenditures were up almost $6 million in 1996-97, with increases from most agencies," Hurd said

"In terms of our national ranking, we remain competitive with our peers-other universities without human medical facilities," says Peters. "Because of our interdisciplinary approach and excellent faculty, we provide leadership in areas critical to the nation, such as materials development, human-computer interaction, fiber optics and wireless technologies, and biotechnology."

The 9-percent increase in the most recent year can also be attributed to increased institutional investment in research. Research and Graduate Studiesat Virginia Tech provided $1.25 million and the Office of the Provost provided $250,000 to support 56 innovative research strategies proposed by faculty members last year, including equipment, programs, laboratories, and facilities that will enhance an individual's or a team's ability to compete for funds from outside the university. The $1.5-million investment has resulted in $1.6 million in new sponsored research so far. For example, Forestry Professor Randy Wynne's proposal to NASA to establish the Virginia Tech Center for Environmental Applications of Remote Sensing (CEARS), has been selected for support at a level of $419,256. A second round of ASPIRES (A Support Program for Innovative Research Strategies) proposals from faculty members have been funded by the university

Peters noted that research and scholarship is repaid many times over in the larger community through benefits and salaries earned by graduates and economic development and quality-of-life benefits from discoveries. Research by the faculty, staff, and students at the university contributes to support and experiences for students, curriculum development, and purchase of equipment used by all. Sponsored research provided $2.9 million for scholarships and almost $3.9 million for equipment last year. Interdisciplinary research and education is a particular strength at Virginia Tech. Last year, the university's centers and institutes were awarded more than $17 million for research, Extension, and interdisciplinary instructional programs

The Virginia Tech Research and Graduate Studies Annual Report for 1996-97 is on the web on the RGS homepage at http://www.rgs.vt.edu/. The Plan for Continued Growth is the opening chapter of the annual report

"We expect our national ranking will be up in the next year-end report," Peters said. "But, as resources continue to shrink and sponsors become increasingly motivated by bottom-line, short-term payoff pressures, researchers and scholars will have to become persuasive at making a case for direction for future research-where return on investment means critical long-term and continuing benefits to all human kind-not just to an industry's stockholders or a single state's or nation's citizens."