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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, July 24, 2005

UH push for more grants paying off

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Staff Writer


A decade-long push to transform the University of Hawai'i into a top-rated research organization is continuing to pay dividends, financial and otherwise.

The university received more than $143 million in federal research grants in 2003, the National Science Foundation said.

The nearly 30 percent increase over the previous year gave UH the biggest jump in the nation, ranking it 31st overall for such money among public institutions and 54th for all universities.

"Whatever happened before, you can see it's starting to pay off," said Gary Ostrander, UH-Manoa vice chancellor for research and general education. "We already know that the numbers for 2004 are going to show another big increase."

State and university officials for the past 10 years have been pushing for UH put more emphasis on research money, for the economic benefits to the school and how it can help students.

In 1997, when the state was mired in a long economic slump, a task force headed by then-Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono concluded the growth of research at UH-Manoa would be the single most important element of any statewide economic revitalization strategy.

At the time, UH was receiving well under $100 million a year in federal research money and was ranked 64th in the nation by the Chronicle of Higher Education, the same group that produced last week's rankings.

Since then, university officials, led by former President Evan Dobelle and former Medical School Dean Edwin Cadman, stressed the importance of going after more federal grants, especially in the fields of science, education and business.

"We're clearly on the move up," said Ostrander, who last year gave up a position at the nation's top-rated research institution, Johns Hopkins University, to take on fundraising for UH.

"When I first came to Hawai'i and saw these pockets of excellence that we have, I knew we could be competitive with others. If we really get our act together, we're going to really move up and be visible across the nation," he said.

Ostrander said the federal money pays dividends far beyond the economic ones by allowing faculty members to take part in the most current research and to pass that information along to students, who also get more opportunities for hands-on learning.

"First off, you've got professors who are teaching out of a laboratory, not just a book," he said. "They can tell the students exactly what's happening in their field today because they are the ones doing the work. Then undergraduates have the opportunity to participate in the research too, which gives them critical thinking, communications and technical skills."

University officials are still trying to decide the fate of another program that could add as much as $10 million a year. The Board of Regents could decide in October whether to approve a contract between UH and the Navy to set up a University Affiliated Research Center, which could include classified research.

The four other universities that have such research centers — Texas, Washington, Johns Hopkins and Penn State — are in the top 30 universities receiving public research money.