SC State seeking research status, more grants

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Honors ProgramSouth Carolina State University has a number of initiatives in the works it hopes may eventually help it reach its long-term goal of being classified as a research institution.

"The sky is the limit," interim Vice President of Research and Economic Development Dr. Leonard McIntyre says. "We're well on our way."

The university recently received the largest grant in its history, a $13 million federal award that will allow S.C. State to produce more than two million textbooks for students in the African nation of Tanzania.

But McIntyre says there could be even more good news on the way.

He said the university is seeking a $25 million federal stimulus grant to produce biofuel. If S.C. State receives the grant, it would be the lead organization in a consortium, along with the Penn Center, the Williamsburg County Development Board and Sentinel Renewable Energy.

McIntyre said the focus of the consortium's work would be producing biofuel from canola seeds. S.C. State officials would conduct the research in Williamsburg, engaging local farmers to grow the seeds. The proposal states it would create 21 new jobs.

McIntyre said the university will know if it has received the grant by late October.

S.C. State is also working to establish a certification program for tug boat operators. McIntyre said the university needs $1.5 million to start the program and $5 million to fully implement it.

McIntyre, who made the S.C. State board aware of the plans during a recent board meeting, said one company is willing to send 100 students and offer $20,000 per student. Trustees seem eager to find the start-up money.

McIntyre noted the nearest training program for tug boat operators is in Louisiana. With ports in Charleston and Savannah, McIntyre said the program "responds to a unique need."

When Dr. George Cooper first came to S.C. State last summer, he quickly put making the institution a research campus at the top of his list.

But what would it take for S.C. State to be classified as such?

Southern Association of Colleges and Schools President Dr. Belle Wheelen said a school needs to display a comprehensive body of work to get the designation from the California-based Carnegie Foundation.

Factors like obtaining a significant amount of grant money, having a large number of faculty with doctoral degrees, conducting meaningful research and possessing an extensive library are vital in that regard, she said.

Another factor is the number of graduate programs and published faculty at a university, according to Elbert Malone, S.C. State assistant vice president of sponsored programs.

Malone noted the university is looking to expand its graduate offerings. Trustees, for instance, have approved a master's program in energy and the environmental science.

He said having centers of excellence at S.C. State like the 1890 Research and Extension program, the James E. Clyburn Transportation Center and a burgeoning nuclear engineering program will help.

Malone said S.C. State has researched other research institutions like the University of South Carolina. He said a common thread is that all of them pull in at least $50 million per year in research grants.

With the way things are going now at the university, Malone believes that could happen.

The state currently has three research institutions: the Medical University of South Carolina, USC and Clemson. All three receive much more state funding than other institutions because of their research designations.

"If you're a research institution, the dollars are going to come," Malone said. "I think we can get there. It's a very doable thing."