The $39.1 million in federal research funding awarded to Kansas institutions in 1989 might seem like nothing to sneeze at, unless one considers that nearby Midwest states of Iowa and Missouri received between $103 million and $150 million in research funding that same year.
Kansas simply is not a strong competitor for federal research dollars, national funding data shows, but the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) is designed to change all that.
This year, for the first time, Kansas became one of 18 states and the commonwealth of Puerto Rico to be eligible for the program, which was established in 1979. On a per capita basis, Kansas ranks 33rd in the country in terms of federal funding awarded to states for research and development.
"The intent of the EPSCoR program is to stimulate changes in the state infrastructure as well as to initiate programs so that we will become more competitive over the next five to 10 years," said Ted Kuwana, regents distinguished professor of chemistry and analytical chemistry at KU. "It's a marvelous opportunity. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
KUWANA is project director for an EPSCoR initiative funded by the National Science Foundation. In August, KU was awarded $100,000 in EPSCoR monies to develop a plan for improving the competitiveness of the state's three doctorate-awarding institutions: KU, Kansas State University and Wichita State University.
Matching funds of $50,000 were provided by Kansas state government, private businesses, foundations and universities. While Kansas universities are working most directly with EPSCoR, the resulting plan will be designed to help the state as a whole, Kuwana said.
"It is a state initiative. It is not any one institution's initiative," Kuwana said. "However, the university is where you find the most creative basic-type research that builds a base for science and technology."
AN ASSESSMENT team headed by Howard Mossberg, KU's acting vice chancellor for research, graduate studies and public service, presently is interviewing university staff, faculty and administrators in an effort to determine what could make Kansas universities more competitive. A plan will be submitted to the National Science Foundation by mid-February.
Any federal funding awarded for the plan will have to be matched by Kansas dollars. Tim Donoghue, vice provost for research and the dean of the graduate school at KSU, hopes the state rises to the occasion.
KSU is involved with two other EPSCoR initiatives funded by the EPA and the Department of Energy. Donoghue said that those two initiatives plus the one funded by the National Science Foundation could mean $13.5 million for Kansas over the next three years.
"A million-dollar grant is like bringing in a million-dollar corporation," Donoghue said. "It allows you to hire secretaries, technicians, graduate students. . . . We then spend money at Dillon's and True Value.
"IT'S ABOUT time that someone in Kansas realized the impact that Kansas universities have on the economy of Kansas."
Donoghue said he fears that if Kansas does not take advantage of the EPSCoR initiatives, Kansas could join other states that "don't have the internal resources to `bootstrap' themselves to become competitive in this country."
"I think EPSCoR is a marvelous opportunity to develop a high-tech agenda for the state," he said.