Oct. 21, 2009

Cornell-ARRA activity boosts research and research jobs

Stimulus funding isn't all about digging ditches. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) includes $17 billion to support research, research infrastructure and education, primarily through the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes of Health.

As of Oct. 21, Cornell had received 121 ARRA research awards for projects on the Ithaca campus, totaling $99,671,305 over two years. In addition, Weill Cornell Medical College has received 63 awards totaling $21, 997,971. In many cases, New York state augments ARRA funds through the New York State Innovation Economy Matching Grants Program, which supports projects that are expected to boost the state's economy. (The availability of such supplemental funding may improve an application's chances for federal approval.)

If it weren't for ARRA, at least some of this research support would not have come to Cornell, said Lesley Yorke, research projects coordinator in the Office of the Vice Provost for Research. NSF officials said the new funding allowed them to revive grant applications that previously had been rejected, she reported.

In the short term, the ARRA funding will create or retain positions for graduate and postdoctoral researchers, technicians and other support staff. In its first quarterly report to the federal government, Cornell noted that ARRA funding created 19 new jobs and retained 75.2 jobs (these calculations include some part-time jobs added together). Weill Cornell reported a total of 100 full-time jobs created and retained. In the longer view, some of the research is expected to lead to new technologies and new businesses to exploit them.

Money has also been provided to acquire and upgrade research facilities and equipment. "This is not only going to create jobs. It's going to help train a new generation of researchers," said Pamela Plotkin, deputy director of sponsored programs. "It's going to increase the tempo of research."

A new Web site, curated by Yorke, at http://www.cornell.edu/recoveryact/ offers a wrap-up of Cornell's ARRA-supported research and highlights of ARRA-funded projects, via links to Cornell Chronicle stories.

The Web site also serves as a resource center to assist faculty in meeting ARRA's unusually elaborate reporting requirements and applying for new stimulus funding, with links to relevant state and federal government sites.

The Web site is part of a nationwide effort by universities to inform the public about the benefits of stimulus funding for research, launched by a consortium of the Association of American Universities, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and the Science Coalition, an organization that lobbies for research funding.

"We must demonstrate why this substantial commitment of resources is a wise investment for the nation now, and we must take this opportunity to strengthen long-term support for a significant ongoing federal investment in basic research," the presidents of the three organizations said in a letter to university presidents.

ARRA funding also has restored federal work-study money that provides jobs for students. Typically some 7,000 students supplement their income with jobs on campus, and about 4,000 of those are paid with money from a decades-old federal subsidy. Federal budget cuts had threatened to eliminate about 700 of those jobs, but enough money was included in the ARRA legislation to restore the program to its former level.