Millions in Federal Aid Stimulating CUNY Programs

August 26, 2009 | The University

From research grants to energy-saving building upgrades to
workforce development contracts, millions of dollars in federal
stimulus funds have been awarded to University projects and
programs, less than a year after Chancellor Matthew Goldstein
championed higher education as critical to the nation’s economic
recovery efforts.

President Obama’s sweeping American Recovery and Renewal Act (ARRA)
is making billions of federal dollars available to educational and
research institutions through federal, state and city agencies,
exciting researchers and setting off a flurry of grant proposals
from CUNY. The funds have started to come in, as grant seekers
across the University contemplate new submissions or await word on
their applications.

The Recovery and Renewal Act is providing more opportunities for
our scholars to pursue their cutting-edge discoveries, and for the
University to expand its role as New York’s leading provider of
highly trained health care workers, teachers and ‘green economy’
employees,” said Chancellor Goldstein, who last year led efforts to
spotlight the economic challenges facing public universities.
Goldstein and Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie
Corporation of New York, convened a summit of higher education
leaders – including the heads of CUNY, SUNY and state systems in
California, Florida, Arizona and Wisconsin – last October and spoke
with Obama’s transition team about the need for investment of
federal stimulus funds in public universities, colleges and
community colleges, which educate the majority of the nation’s work
force.

ARRA, signed by Obama in February, targets the stimulus funds for
higher education to research, development and training. Investments
in renewable energy and job creation are also key goals. As of late
July, at least 30 projects reflecting those priorities had been
approved for stimulus funds, to be allocated through federal and
city agencies.

Two CUNY websites – http://web.
cuny.edu/research/AmericanRecoveryAct. html and

http://web.cuny.edu/academics/

infocentral/addresources/facultystaff/ fundingopps.html – have been
created to detail funding opportunities and provide links to
allocating agencies. CUNY’s Office of Research, and grants offices
at the colleges, are assisting faculty in submitting proposals,
modifying and resubmitting earlier submissions, and requesting
supplements to existing grants.

“With these two websites up, we are getting a tremendous amount of
interest across the University,” said Allan Dobrin, executive vice
chancellor and chief operating officer. “People are looking at the
websites, thinking about applying.”

More than $15 million of the CUNY stimulus funds granted so far is
for research, mostly in science, some in the social sciences,
funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National
Institutes of Health (NIH), NASA and other agencies, said Vice
Chancellor Gillian Small.

The funded projects span groundbreaking scientific inquiry and
research with a timely edge. They include a $680,000 NSF grant for
Hunter College chemistry professor Nancy Greenbaum’s exploration of
the “splicing” mechanism critical to development of RNA molecules,
and Queens College sociology chair Andrew Beveridge’s $144,995 NSF
grant to study “The Distribution and Social Impact of Mortgage
Foreclosures in the United States.” Anthropologists Sophia
Perdikaris and Thomas McGovern were awarded more than $1.1 million
in NSF funds for “Islands of Change,” a Research Experience for
Undergraduates historical ecology project investigating people’s
relationships with changing environments, including climates, in
Iceland and Barbuda, West Indies.

College of Staten Island’s Teacher Academy, an honors program for
incoming freshmen wishing to major in mathematics, biology or
chemistry, received $839,000 from the NSF for scholarships to train
29 mathematics and science teachers for grades 7-12. York College
received a similar NSF grant of nearly $900,000 for a similar
teacher training program.

Overall, funds requested for research exceed $90 million, including
64 submissions for $39 million in new NIH “challenge grants” for
health and science research, said Vice Chancellor Small. Included
are funds NIH and NSF may approve to renovate science facilities
and provide instrumentation necessary to the funded research.

“Clearly, the stimulus has stimulated many of our faculty to write
grant proposals,” she said. “We understand they might not all be
funded, but we’d like to keep the momentum going.”

Small noted that much of the stimulus money awarded to University
researchers thus far is for existing or ongoing proposals and
projects. The ARRA opportunities – at least $26 billion is expected
to go to research nationwide – are “a good thing for CUNY” at a
time when the University has been “ramping up” research efforts
amid a generally grim funding climate, she noted.

While much of the stimulus money is targeted to research, funds
also are going to job creation and “green” projects – sectors where
CUNY is attaining prominence.

Borough of Manhattan Community College received $11 million in
federal stimulus funds for an extensive environmental upgrade – 10
projects to boost the energy efficiency of mechanical and
electrical systems at its main building at 199 Chambers St., for an
annual cost savings of more than $1 million. When completed, the
upgrade, funded through the Mayor’s New York City Department of
Energy Management, is expected to reduce BMCC’s annual electrical
energy consumption by more than 4 million kilowatts, and shrink its
carbon footprint by approximately 5,400 metric tons of CO2.

Some $15 million in stimulus funds have been allocated by the New
York City Department of Small Business Services for new health care
programs at LaGuardia Community College and for expansion of
nursing, radiologic, EMT and other health care training at New York
City College of Technology, Kingsborough and Queensborough
Community Colleges and College of Staten Island.

“Federal workforce funds are being invested in intensive, long-term
education and training programs in a way that they haven’t been
before,” noted Suri Duitch, University director of adult and
continuing education. “The city is paying for people to get degrees
in nursing. There’s no better investment. It’s a very big deal.”

Recovery monies may also partially fund projects that touch CUNY.
For example, $5 million in ARRA funds are part of an $11.8 million
U.S. Department of Energy investment, announced July 29, in five
solar energy grid integration systems aimed at lowering energy
consumption and Americans’ utility bills. LaGuardia Community
College is partnering with Princeton Power of Princeton, NJ, on one
of the DOE-funded projects, focusing on lowering manufacturing
costs through integrated controls for energy storage.

Some at CUNY viewed the stimulus funds’ availability as a positive
reflection of changing federal priorities.

“It’s led to a real renewal,” said professor Greenbaum of Hunter.
“There is going to be an improved emphasis on research … which
not only makes it possible to do our science, but enables us to
educate students, training young people for the next generation of
researchers.

“The money is being offered and spread out in such a way, as to
enhance the entire climate,” she added. “May it continue.”