The world of research grant funding has changed. Many large funding agencies have either added significant new requirements for innovative and measureable educational, outreach and assessment components or they have added funding programs specifically for education and outreach.
Anna Henry, associate professor and department chair of Agricultural Education, has begun a virtual center to help CAFNR researchers meet the new qualifications. Her Center for the Collaboration and Development of Educational Innovations is designed to partner with faculty members conducting sponsored research from the beginning of a project.
By working with Henry and other Center collaborators, researchers can focus their expertise in their research area while letting education experts develop the best program to fit the research.
An Edge in Securing Funding
“Since funding has become so much more competitive, we can no longer rely on adding on a workshop or seminar to a research proposal to meet the new requirements,” Henry said. “We need to think about what is truly innovative and effective educationally and measures the teaching and learning impact of the project.”
The Center’s first project worked with Don Spiers, professor of animal sciences. Spiers is researching ways to save cattle farmers millions of dollars of production losses caused by heat stress. During hot summer weather, milk production in dairy cattle may decrease by as much as 50 percent. The reproductive proficiency of lactating dairy cows is also greatly diminished – some data indicate only 10 to 20 percent of inseminations in “heat stressed” cows result in pregnancies.
Henry worked with Spiers during the grant writing process to address the new educational requirements by designing an innovative tool for high school science teachers. This didn’t put students in a chair in a classroom listening to a lecture, but provided them with an app for their mobile devices to monitor heat stress on animals and weather conditions. With the app, students can make real-time decisions on managing the herd and measuring the results of those decisions.
“The high school students use the app to investigate heat stress on their own animals, mimicking the university research,” Henry said. “This way the students can get excited about science through hands-on involvement. America has a huge problem in attracting students to science careers. Here’s an example of helping students getting engaged through an approach that is relevant to them and provides a tangible result.”
Opportunities for Innovation
The project is also spilling into other areas. Journalism students will publicize the app, giving them an opportunity to exercise their communication skills and inform the public about practical uses of research.
Other collaborators on the center include: Mary Hendrickson in Rural Sociology, Carol Lorenzen in Animal Science, Tracy Kitchel in Agricultural Education, Jon Simonsen in Agricultural Education, Lori Wilcox, College of Education, Mary Leuci, CAFNR Community Development Extension, and Jo Britt-Rankin, College of Human and Environmental Sciences.
Center collaborators all specialize in areas related to education, Extension, and program assessment, Henry said. “Our goal is to reach out to as many faculty members as possible through Center collaborators.”