In his recent two-year stint as Faculty Fellow for Research, Douglas E. Kowalewski, Ph.D., set up ways to make it easier for his colleagues to apply for grants, awards, and other funding to support their scholarly work.
“Faculty at Worcester State are already doing amazing cutting-edge research, and my role as faculty fellow really has been to build up that research culture even more on campus,” says Kowalewski, associate professor in the Department of Earth, Environment, and Physics. “With recent changes in how we submit proposals at WSU, I wanted to address some of the faculty’s questions and help usher their amazing proposals through the system.”
Kowalewski was awarded the inaugural fellowship to disseminate knowledge gained when he was a program officer at the National Science Foundation (NSF), work that was supported at WSU via an alternate professional responsibility (APR) period. “I gained a lot of insider knowledge about how awards are funded at a federal agency as I was the one who actually had the role of recommending the awards and the declines,” he says.
After his NSF APR ended, the University administration, including President Barry M. Maloney, Linda Larrivee ’76, M.S. ’80, Ph.D., dean of the School of Education, Health and Natural Sciences, Provost Lois Wims, Ph.D., and Henry Theriault, Ph.D., associate vice president of academic affairs, saw a need to create a position to help increase the research culture on campus. They chose Kowalewski since he could share the specialized knowledge he gained at NSF with the University community.
To achieve that, Kowalewski ran a series of seminars on how to develop an externally funded research program or laboratory, as well as proposal and manuscript writing workshops. He addressed what he learned was one of the biggest obstacles to grant writing—finding the time.
Kowalewski worked with Theriault to include the option to request a course release to free up time for faculty to write a proposal for external funding as part of the Faculty Scholarships and Creative Activities grant.
“It costs about $6,000 to hire an adjunct, which gives a faculty member time to write an external proposal that might bring in $100,000, of which $30,000 to $40,000 are in indirect costs and goes right into our general fund, so it really is a great investment for the university,” Kowalewski says. “But it also is important because it really promotes what our faculty do. We’re not just teachers. We’re also scholars. We actually have to be the best and the brightest and at the top of our game. We have to be advancing knowledge, and it often takes external funding to accomplish such tasks do that.”
Worcester State has been poised for some time to dramatically increase the external funding for faculty and student research and creative work, Theriault says.
“More than three years ago we undertook a strong effort in that direction, toward not only increased support for external grant seeking but a more cohesive and strategic approach,” he says. “Doug’s work at NSF gave him special expertise to support this effort. The vision of the president and provost in creating the Faculty Fellow for Research position, and naming to it someone with Doug’s unique
combination of first-rate, internationally renowned research and direct experience as a high-level program officer at one of the major grant funders in the world, cannot be overpraised.”
A main goal of the faculty fellow position is to help Worcester State continue the process of transitioning from a college to a university.
“In a university, faculty not only disseminate knowledge to students but also produce knowledge with undergraduate and graduate students,” Kowalewski says. “We’re still working on putting that infrastructure in place to really support all the needs of the faculty as they strive to do that.”
Since he has been a faculty member at WSU for several years, Kowalewski understands the research culture that exists on campus as well as how it can be strengthened, Larrivee says.
“Faculty members at WSU who engage in research need a colleague to whom they can turn with questions such as those related to grant applications,” she says. “We were extremely lucky that Dr. Kowalewski was the founding research faculty fellow for several reasons. He has deep knowledge of the process and procedures related to federal grants, he has been a scholar for numerous years, and he has received federal grants. He understands the process both as a reviewer and as an applicant.”
At the start of his stint, Kowalewski looked at where funds were flowing to the University beyond the considerable philanthropy that the Office of University Advancement works to bring in. His focus was on grants of the type that faculty and the Latino Education Institute had been successful in landing.
“I wanted to build up that research culture and share some of the tools of the trade with faculty to make it easier and lower the barriers for submitting proposals for external funds,” he says. Kowalewski also provided internal review of proposals to help faculty navigate the proposal and award process and helped build proposal budgets for faculty.
Among research grants recently awarded to Worcester State faculty is a $126,322 NSF grant to Karl Wurst, Ph.D., chair of the Computer Science Department, for efforts that aim to increase the number of underrepresented people in the computing field; a $40,000 grant to Adam Saltsman, Ph.D., executive director of the Urban Action Institute, and Thomas Conroy, Ph.D., chair of the Urban Studies Department for a community engagement project to ease the isolation of senior citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic; and two Templeton Foundation network grants totaling $650,000 to Benjamin D. Jee, associate professor of psychology, to study religious and scientific concepts in Indonesia and how they are transmitted.
To build on what Kowalewski has achieved as faculty fellow, the University is hiring a director for the new Office of Grants and Sponsored Research. An interim director has been appointed, and Kowalewski plans on returning to his faculty position in the Department of Earth, Environment, and Physics.
“My two-year commitment was to really try to increase the culture of research and scholarship on campus,” he says. “It’s an important goal that makes Worcester State more competitive when trying to acquire external awards and attract students to campus.”
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