New Vice President for Research Looks to Expand Opportunities With Business and Industry
With more than six months at the helm of Kent State University’s research division, Vice President Douglas Delahanty, Ph.D., has been hard at work making sure the university is sharply focused on its collaborations with business and industry and maintaining its R1 research status.
Delahanty, who was named vice president in January 2023, has been at Kent State since 1997, beginning as an assistant professor of psychology and then earning tenure and full professor status soon after. His success with obtaining research grants is what initially got him involved with the research office, and he later directed an initiative charged with supporting clinical and translational research that brought together Kent State researchers with clinical partners from Summa Health System and Akron Children’s Hospital in Akron, Ohio.
He rose to the rank of associate vice president for research and sponsored programs and then was named interim vice president for the division following the retirement of Vice President Paul DiCorletto, Ph.D.
Delahanty began his interim role intending to serve until the next vice president was announced, but his enthusiasm for the job grew with every passing month. After 18 months in the interim role, Delahanty emerged from a competitive field with the appointment earlier this year.
KST: Tell us about the new division name. How will this help Kent State to refocus its economic development lens?
Delahanty: Kent State’s approach to economic development was problematic. We were underperforming relative to our peers with respect to industry- and state-sponsored research. Currently, there is a lot of state and national funding targeting large teams comprised of higher education-industry partnerships, and Kent State has a lot to offer to these teams.
However, most recently, Kent State’s Office of Corporate Engagement resided within the Division of Philanthropy and Alumni Engagement and was not outwardly visible to industry. Housing corporate engagement within a division creates a one-dimensional approach to interacting with industry. Instead, we want to highlight a holistic way of partnering with Kent State, where we can work with companies to provide the next generation of skilled and knowledgeable workers, or where we can combine research strengths to make the next great discovery, or we can provide mutually beneficial internships to our students.
In addition, we need a way for industry to find us – a visible front door for industry partners to contact us. So, we’re building out an Office for Corporate Engagement, and to demonstrate that this is not a research-specific approach to industry engagement, we changed the name of the division from Research and Sponsored Programs to Research and Economic Development. Outside industry can contact this office and reach one person whose job it is to put them directly in contact with the appropriate person who can meet their needs. This office will enable us to be much more efficient and much better partners.
The funding we received from Intel is a really good example of how we can work with industry and how we can meet their workforce development needs. (Kent State is the lead grant recipient of a collaborative grant involving 13 other Ohio higher education institutions that will prepare the workforce to support the $20 billion semiconductor plant Intel has planned for central Ohio.)
KST: Let’s talk about R1. Kent State obtained for the first time ever the coveted R1 designation from the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. It is a great honor, but you must feel a great duty to maintain that standing.
Delahanty: Yes, this year, we took critical steps toward maintaining our Carnegie R1 designation. There are very specific criteria that go into the designation, and we invested time and significant energy into each one. First, with funding from the Office of the President, we funded 10 postdoctoral researchers. This not only increased our number of postdocs (one of the criteria) but also is an investment in future funding success.
Perhaps the biggest driver of our R1 status is the number of doctoral degrees we confer. Carnegie counts the number of doctoral conferrals in four different areas: STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), social sciences, humanities and other. At Kent State, we train a lot of the next generation of scholars, and our doctoral conferrals in these four areas are what have really driven us into R1 territory. Given the breadth of units responsible for training doctoral students, there’s not a single person on this campus who doesn’t believe they are somehow responsible for the R1 designation, and they are all correct. The R1 designation is a full campus accomplishment, and we have a large institutional buy-in for it. There’s a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of excitement.
The final categories counted by Carnegie involve research dollars, specifically the amount of dollars spent on research. We made several investments in our research infrastructure, including our Game-Changer Pilot Program where we funded six projects totaling more than $2 million.
KST: Tell us more about the Game-Changer projects.
Delahanty: The Game-Changer Funding Program started this year with the principal goal of investing in research infrastructure that will significantly increase the number and quality of grant submissions in the next three to five years.
We budgeted $1 million for the program but also encouraged applicants to provide cost-share since all dollars spent last fiscal year counted toward the R1 designation. We received 33 applications requesting over $4.2 million representing a broad range of disciplines. As mentioned, we were able to fund six projects totaling over $2 million.
For example, one of the most visible projects is the new multimodal nonlinear optical microscope, or NLO, which recently was installed in the Integrated Sciences Building. Thirteen faculty members from three different departments will be able to submit more innovative grant applications because they now have the use of this microscope.
Another funded project was the Student Life Study, a collaboration between multiple departments and colleges that will follow 10,000 Kent State undergraduate students over time using cutting-edge technology and gold-standard methods. Faculty will be able to test and identify state-of-the-art education and wellness interventions.
KST: Kent State is unique in that we offer great opportunities for undergraduates to engage in meaningful research, literally from the time they are first-year students. It’s not something that is reserved for upper-class or graduate students. Do you think that undergraduate students are embracing that?
Delahanty: The number of undergrads who are getting involved in experiential learning opportunities through research is huge. In the summer of 2022, we had 120 students take part in our Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) program in which students spend eight weeks over the summer working one-on-one with a faculty member. I was like, “Holy cow!” because that was up from 70 the year before. This summer, we have grown to 168 SURE participants! These students are working in labs, fields, libraries, studios and just about every other place imaginable to meaningfully contribute to new discoveries while building skills that will serve them through their education and beyond. That is something worth celebrating.
KST: It sounds like you have had a pretty productive first year and it’s not over yet. What are your hopes for the future?
Delahanty: Five years from now, I’d like to see a dramatic increase in our levels of funding. After all these investments, we want to start seeing increases not of hundreds of thousands a year, but of millions per year in expenditures. Some of that, hopefully, will come from being competitive with these large-scale industry-based kinds of efforts, like innovation hubs and tech hubs, now that we’re part of the conversation. The funding from Intel (Kent State will receive $3.3 million in the first three years of the partnership) is a good example of how we can lead with workforce development efforts.
Our strength is that we have a large regional campus system that draws students from across northeastern Ohio. Educating our students in the highly innovative and research-intensive culture I have described is absolutely a selling point of the Kent State experience. We can attract the types of students that industry partners are looking to hire, and we can provide students with all kinds of flexible educational opportunities – from certificates and micro-credentials to associate degrees up to Ph.D.s. For these reasons, we can meet workforce needs more nimbly than other higher education institutions.
So, five years out, my goal is to have a much stronger relationship with industry while at the same time being competitive for multiple larger-scale grants – $10-, $15-, $20-million type of grants – and the goal is to do all that without ignoring any component of our faculty and students at Kent State. As an example, we have amazing faculty in the arts and humanities, and funding levels for these disciplines are often lower, and opportunities fewer, than for other disciplines. Despite the potential funding differential, these faculty and their research are critical elements to a robust and creative research university, and we need to ensure we support their work. It was a whole-university approach that led us to achieve the R1 status, and it is critically important to continue to invest in scholarship broadly as it will be a whole-university approach that enables us to maintain it.