At a research summit next week hosted by the Graduate School, students and faculty from Virginia Tech will connect with colleagues at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and other minority-serving institutions (MSIs).

Some of those conversations will grow into new collaborations. Some of those collaborations will be funded through a seed investment program specifically designed to give such partnerships a running start. 

The Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science (ICTAS) runs a slate of seed investment programs that target specific goals — such as diversifying research networks. That's the motivation behind the institute’s Diversity and Inclusion Seed Investments program, which funds collaborations with faculty at HBCUs and MSIs.

“When more people have a seat at the table, the quality and quantity of ideas goes up and research gets stronger,” said Stefan Duma, the institute’s director. “We have a responsibility to use the resources available to us to build a research community that's accessible to everyone, and one way we do that is by using seed funding to make it a little easier to form new partnerships.” 

Many of the partnerships the program has funded began as informal conversations at the annual summit, which this year will be held Nov. 6-8 at The Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center. The summit gives researchers at Virginia Tech an opportunity to identify faculty and students at HBCUs and MSIs who might be interested in partnering on summer research opportunities, grant proposals, and other initiatives. Faculty who win seed funding through the ICTAS program help perpetuate the cycle by coming back to present their research at the following year’s event. 

The program is designed to establish long-term faculty partnerships that will generate future joint publications and proposals. Each research team receives $10,000 per year for two years, which often goes to offset the costs of travel, equipment and supplies, and student salaries. The research institute plans to award 15 of the grants. 

Chris Tysor, ICTAS’ diversity and inclusion coordinator and a program manager at the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership, manages the program. 

“It’s a small award, but if it allows them to visit their collaborators or bring their collaborators here or get these students into our labs and expand their network, then to me that’s worth it,” she said. “And for many of these faculty, this funding is the springboard for successful applications for larger federal grants.” 

So far, there are more than 30 HBCUs and MSIs whose faculty have developed partnerships with Virginia Tech through the program, studying topics as diverse as designing sensors inspired by the physics of spiderwebs, building a virtual laboratory for collaboration on quantum research, studying the impact of uranium mining on radiation exposure in Indigenious communities, and composing pieces of music for diverse orchestras. 

The initial research funded by these grants has a tendency to snowball into something much more substantial: In a typical year, faculty report a collective total of about $3 million in external funding that they can trace to work supported by the seed grants. 

This year, another investment institute has teamed up with ICTAS to add a new dimension to the program: The Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology is co-funding one of the 15 awards, providing additional support for a project that is grounded in art or design and addresses one of that institute’s eight research themes. That project will be funded at $20,000 each year for two years. The two institutes have collaborated on diversity initiatives before, including a supersized display of community artwork on the facade of Cassell Coliseum last spring. 

Faculty interested in applying for the ICTAS Diversity and Inclusion Seed Investments should submit one-page proposals to by Nov. 16. More details are available on the ICTAS website.  

Complete list of ICTAS investment programs.

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