Research development key to advancing Virginia Tech's research and innovation ecosystem
The Research and Innovation office continues to reorganize, realign, and reinforce capabilities to help faculty win more competitive, large research grants to enhance the impact of the researchers’ portfolios, in addition to advancing research and innovation culture, ecosystem, and growth.
In 2021, Virginia Tech faculty demonstrated their ambitions in research by submitting a record number of proposals, with total research proposal value increasing 38 percent over 2020. These efforts are bearing fruit in 2022; research expenditures are trending upward with a 12 percent increase for the first three quarters over the same period in 2021.
Virginia Tech was listed as 251-300 in the 2022 Times Higher Education World University Ranking, which judges research excellence on a global scale. Among research-intensive, public land-grant universities, the university is currently ranked No. 16 with the goal to become No. 13 by 2024.
“Virginia Tech has a tremendous foundation for growth based on existing capacity and resources, world-class facilities, and highly regarded faculty,” said Dan Sui, senior vice president for research and innovation. “With major initiatives like the Research Frontiers intended to bring together diverse expertise to focus on areas that address emerging challenges facing humanity, we must mobilize every resource to help faculty who are leading cutting-edge research endeavors that will impact our community, near and far.”
To enhance faculty support, Sui is leading the newly formed research development strategy team that will establish and deploy an intentional plan of action to take an early-stage perspective on research development.
Sui said the team's goal is “to help faculty be prepared for opportunities before they are announced. Ideally, we will help shape opportunities when they are still being discussed by positioning our faculty as expert resources for sponsors.”
Part of the Virginia Tech team is based in the greater Washington, D.C., area with close proximity to federal agencies, including Steve McKnight, vice president for strategic research alliances, and Jon Porter associate vice president for strategic research alliances. Randy Heflin, senior associate vice president for research and innovation; Brandy Salmon, associate vice president for partnerships and innovation; Laurel Miner, assistant vice president and chief of staff; and Vince Baranauskas, senior research development coordinator, are all based on the Blacksburg campus.
Since Jan. 1, team members have helped faculty submit over $500 million worth of proposals and letters of intent. By providing support for proposal cost share, red team review, concept development, landscape analysis, and sponsor and competitor intelligence, the team aims to make researchers' proposals more competitive. Collectively, McKnight's and Salmon’s teams work directly with federal agencies, foundations and business groups, academic institutions, and industry partners to further enhance existing partnerships and forge new strategic consortiums with external collaborators.
Baranauskas, who was hired in late 2021, focuses on faculty engagement and assistance for all proposals, including direct sponsor outreach. In his role, Baranauskas co-manages the limited submission proposal down-selection process; coordinates and assists with red team member selection, reviews, and proposal submission with the Office of Sponsored Programs; selects topics and invites speakers for the Research Development Series seminars; assists with Proposal Development Institute and faculty mentoring; and acts a liaison for associate deans for research and institute directors regarding emerging funding opportunities.
In addition to Baranauskas’ role, several organizational changes at the university aim to further accelerate progress toward the university’s goal of being recognized as a top-100 global research university, including moving the Office of Strategic Research Alliances to Research and Innovation. McKnight and Porter engage with faculty and staff across all Virginia Tech campuses to advance collaboration opportunities and forge strategic partnerships with federal agencies, foundations and business groups, and academic institutions to increase the impact of Virginia Tech research and innovation.
As part of the evolution of the research development program, Heflin was appointed senior associate vice president for Research and Innovation in January. He is charged with enhancing the university’s research development program and research infrastructure and leads efforts to support faculty in coordinating institutional cost share for major proposals, relieving a major pain point for faculty.
Research and Innovation has launched numerous efforts to support faculty’s research development efforts, including a Research Development microsite within research.vt.edu to provide research faculty direct access to resources, training, funding opportunities, partners, and events and programs as well as a Research Development Support Series intended to help faculty in their journeys to increase the scope and impact of their research, creativity, and innovation portfolios.