By Katie Linder
The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences set a record for total research funds awarded during fiscal year 2023, with $118 million—surpassing the previous record of $81 million, set just two years earlier.
The University of Iowa as a whole secured more than $704 million in external funding during the last fiscal year. Researchers and scholars across the university brought in more than $363 million in federal funding, a 16.5 percent increase over FY22.
CLAS contributed nearly a third of that through its record-setting year for grants.
The TRACERS impact
University-wide funding from NASA exceeded $75 million, with most of it supporting researchers located in the college’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. More than $67 million was from the NASA-funded TRACERS project, previously led by the late Craig Kletzing, which is the largest grant ever received by the University of Iowa.
While TRACERS funding made up a large portion of the grant dollars received in the college, if you take it out of the total, CLAS funding is still growing.
CLAS is earning larger, more competitive grants
Total awarded dollars weren’t the only thing up in FY23; total proposed grant dollars came in at more than $151 million, surpassing the previous record of $143 million set just last year. Faculty in the college are applying for—and being awarded—larger grants more frequently. This comes even as the total number of tenure-track faculty in the college has decreased by 18 percent over the last decade. The college is currently averaging about $200,000 per year in grant funding per tenured-track faculty member, compared to $65,000 about a decade ago.
The college is also seeing more interest from major agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, and other substantial federal funders, especially through interdisciplinary and cross-department grants that can utilize the size of the college and the strength of the greater University of Iowa campus for their projects.
“Our faculty are applying for, and being awarded, larger, more complex grants” Joshua Weiner, CLAS associate dean for research, said. “It’s exciting to see the impact these dollars will have at the university and in our college—but most importantly on the advancements in scholarship and innovation across disciplines.”
Last fiscal year, CLAS faculty across many disciplines brought in substantial grants of $1 million or more, for example:
- NIH R01 grant: “Pregnancy 24/7 Offspring Study,” Kara Whitaker, HHP, $3.2M
- NIH R01 grant: “Neural circuits and mechanisms underlying active and passive stress coping,” Jason Radley, PBS, $3.3M
- Department of Defense grant: “Identifying and Measuring User and Platform Vulnerabilities to Strategic Information Operations,” Brian Ekdale, SJMC, $1.7M
- Department of Defense grant: “Preclinical development of use-dependent, selective blockers of GluA2-lacking AMPA receptors to prevent noise-induced neurodegeneration," Steven Green, Biology, $1.3M
- Department of Education grant: “National Resource Center for Translation and Global Literacy,” Aron Aji, DWLLC, $1M
The power of grant support
The CLAS Grant Support Office has been instrumental in helping faculty acquire larger, more competitive grants as its staff helps with the front and back ends of the application process. “The larger the application, the more complicated it is. Our staff members are helping pull important information together on a rigid and often tight deadline,” explains Carmen Langel, CLAS grant support office director. “Our team’s work and support are important in helping our talented faculty members go after and secure these impressive grants.”
Strong grantsmanship by faculty in several STEM fields, including the Departments of Biology, Chemistry, Communication Sciences and Disorders, Computer Science, Health and Human Physiology, Physics and Astronomy, and Psychological and Brain Sciences, especially helped drive up the college’s total dollars awarded over the last five years.
Support from the GSO office and strong faculty grantsmanship is making a difference—as the chart above shows, the college's ten-year average of about $40 million in research funding began to go up immediately following CLAS' strategic investments in a centralized grant support staff starting in 2018.
FY23 ended on June 30, 2023, and just a few months into FY24, leaders in the college are already feeling optimistic about another strong year for research funding in CLAS.
“Two months in and the college is already off to a strong start with $15 million awarded to CLAS faculty,” Weiner said. “It should be another impressive research year for the college, and our faculty and staff should feel really proud of that.”