JANUARY 2012 | VOL. 12 NO. 5  
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"Growing Research at Fordham!”
 James Wilson
Director of Faculty Development
Fordham University

James Wilson (photo, Fordham)
One of the great privileges of serving as Fordham’s Director of Faculty Development has been fostering faculty scholarship and awareness of their achievements across disciplines. For the past three years, these dual efforts have been part of a strategic program through the University’s Office of Research called “Growing Research at Fordham!”

“What a great pleasure...these events [are] a knock-out!” Professor Rosemary Wakeman, Director of Fordham’s Urban Studies Program and most recently the author of The Heroic City: Paris 1945-48, e-mailed her colleagues after one of my office’s popular panels.

A few minutes later former Mellon, Fulbright, and John Paul Getty Fellow Kirsten Swinth—an Associate Professor of History at Fordham who is currently writing Bringing Home the Bacon and Frying it Up Too: A Cultural History of the Working Mother in the United States—hit ‘reply all’ to e-mail back:

“I'll add to the chorus of thanks for bringing us together…I loved the diversity of what we covered and the sparks of creativity that flowed when we began juxtaposing our ideas and knowledge.”

These professors’ praise demonstrates that the name “Growing Research at Fordham!” serves as both a description of and an imperative for my office’s efforts.

However, at one of the first Growing Research events, a panel of Fordham scientists—all active researchers with grants from NASA, the National Science Foundation and National Park Service among them—confessed that prior to this program their perception of the University had been markedly different. They were, in fact, surprised to discover that Fordham’s mission statement contained a commitment “to research and education that assist in the alleviation of poverty, the promotion of justice, the protection of human rights and respect for the environment." Happily, none of the presenting faculty members were embarrassed by their confession. Rather, both they and their audience—comprised of nearly 150 faculty, staff and students representing 27 different departments and disciplines—proved eager to hold Fordham to that commitment. Now each year over 40% of Fordham’s full time faculty members participate in some facet of the Office of Research’s opportunities for “Growing Research at Fordham!”

Conceived in three tiers, Growing Research begins with its competitive programs to provide Fordham funding to faculty scholars through grants and fellowships. These programs pre-existed Growing Research, but their incorporation into an overarching strategy for the development of faculty scholarship has resulted in what can only be described as a virtuous cycle. First, through the promotion of its opportunities and results, the number of annual applications to these funding programs have skyrocketed, which has had the effect of increased competition. Second, increased competition for these awards has resulted in more faculty seeking assistance from their peers and the Office of Research to prepare their applications. Third, better prepared applications have consequently raised expectations among reviewers, who are themselves past recipients of these awards. Finally, peers’ ever higher expectations have caused even more faculty to seek assistance when preparing their projects and proposals—and thus the cycle continues along an ever upward spiral.

This “virtuous cycle” has proven critical to “Growing Research at Fordham!” For example, prior to 2008, faculty members who received a Fordham funded fellowship were 35% more likely to subsequently publish or obtain external funding than those who had not received such support; however, at the same time, only about 60% of such former faculty fellows were actually contributing to this collective achievement. Three years into Growing Research’s virtuous cycle this has improved dramatically. Now 85% of our most recent faculty fellows have already achieved publication or external funding, and they have done so within a significantly shorter period of time since the end of their fellowship period.

Thus the second tier of Growing Research has been to highlight these faculty members’ achievements with the support they received from the Office of Research. At the center of these efforts has been an annual series of interdisciplinary panels, luncheons and receptions that have brought together a cross-section of the University community, helped faculty find collaborators from across schools and disciplines, and contributed to the overall perception of a culture of research at Fordham.

One of the great success stories associated with these events has been the explosion of “Digital Humanities at Fordham” (just Google that phrase to see them in action!). Comprised of scholars from an ever growing list of departments—including Art History & Music, English, History, Sociology & Anthropology, and Theology, as well as further partnership with the Graduate School of Business’ Center for Digital Transformation and the University’s Center for Teaching Excellence—these faculty members’ various projects are on the cutting edge of research in the humanities. Growing Research has funded and promoted many of these “DH” projects, both individually and collectively, and their combined efforts are producing tools that will advance scholarship far beyond Fordham. Recognizing this, the National Endowment of the Humanities funded Fordham DH scholar and Assistant Professor of Sociology Micki McGee to spearhead a multi-institutional effort to create standards for interoperable data in order to foster collaborative archival research. Reflecting on her award’s intent, Dr. McGee points out that “DH is often less hierarchical than traditional scholarly contexts…open[ing] up new avenues of scholarship.”

Which brings us to the third tier of Growing Research: recognizing the impact Fordham faculty scholarship has on the world around us. This past spring, faculty, students, staff and alumna/i submitted over 400 nominations for the first annual “Fordham Funded-Research Scholar” award, established to recognize those faculty with externally funded research agendas that have had a profound effect on our community and Fordham’s culture of research. Many of those submitting nominations took considerable time to write about why they wanted to see that faculty member so honored at our March 2011 Lincoln Center award ceremony, which was part of a full day of scholarly events. They didn’t talk about book sales, dollar amounts or the prestige of granting institutions. Rather, they wrote comments like the following about our award recipient in the category of Social Sciences & Professions, Assistant Professor of Social Work Tina Maschi, whose research includes studying the unique challenges of being elderly and in prison:

It is due to her contagious passion for learning and her demonstration of what is possible through research that I have been able to push myself to my limits. The world is a better place because of people like Dr. Maschi. She exemplifies all that Fordham aims to represent. She is a true scholar.

A true scholar.

That’s why we do research, and how research informs what we teach.

That’s why we’re “Growing Research at Fordham!”