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CHIP named first University Research Center

by Beth Krane - October 1, 2007

More than 100 centers exist at UConn, and at least half are devoted to academic research.

To help the University determine which of its major research centers merit special status and substantial, strategic re-investment of its funds, a committee convened by Provost Peter J. Nicholls last year established clear criteria for receiving the designation of University Research Center.

On Sept. 25, the Board of Trustees named the Center for Health, Intervention and Prevention (CHIP) UConn’s first University Research Center.

The criteria for a center’s selection as a University Research Center include:

  • the involvement of at least three tenured or tenure-track faculty members with independent external funding;
  • an interdisciplinary focus, represented by the presence of faculty members from at least two schools or colleges; and
  • total annual research expenditures from external grant funding in excess of $1 million, with research expenditures subject to indirect costs.

Additionally, a University Research Center must include an academic component and increase the breadth of scholarly productivity, rather than focus exclusively on providing services to researchers.

According to the report by the Major Centers and Institutes Review Committee, a University Research Center must contribute to the essential research mission of the University “in a measure that exceeds what individual faculty members can achieve in the absence of the center. University Research Centers catalyze the development of interdisciplinary scholarship beyond the normal domain of any single dean or department head.”

A proposal to create such a center must be brought before the University’s Research Advisory Council for input and submitted to the vice provost for research and graduate education, who grants University Research Center status to major research centers in consultation with the provost, pending final approval by the Board of Trustees.

“It’s like stocks,” says Gregory Anderson, vice provost for research and graduate education.

“Why do people invest in stocks? The University strategically re-invests in a select group of major research centers with demonstrated track records of providing the greatest return on research investment for the institution.

“We are very comfortable investing in a center like CHIP, with its dramatic, upward research grant trajectory,” he adds.

Anderson also notes CHIP’s extensive interdisciplinary network of affiliated researchers and its culture of successfully fostering scholarly productivity among junior faculty members, graduate students, and undergraduates.

Since fiscal year 2002, when CHIP first received University support through a different mechanism, the center’s annual external grant funding has increased by 557 percent, from $1.4 million to $7.8 million. A total of $43.5 million in grants were awarded to CHIP researchers during that interval, with $10 million in indirect costs returned to the University.

CHIP began in the psychology department with an initial focus on HIV/AIDS prevention research. It is now an independent research center, with some 100 affiliated researchers from almost every school and college at UConn.

It has broadened its focus  to include other behavioral health issues, such as cancer prevention, obesity, and alcohol and drug abuse.

In fiscal year 2007, CHIP’s external grants funded 31 graduate students from five departments. In the past five years, nine of the center’s graduate students have received National Research Service Awards, prestigious graduate fellowships from the National Institutes of Health.

“We provide our graduate students with opportunities I didn’t have until I was 10 to 15 years into my career,” says Jeffrey Fisher, professor of psychology and the founding director of CHIP.

Adds Anderson, “CHIP exists as a result of initiative and creativity. A group of faculty found a research niche where they could contribute and where they could put UConn in a prime position to be successful. In those respects, CHIP is a model University Research Center.”

Anderson says that to receive funding from the University, a University Research Center has to demonstrate specific needs rather than expect a set percentage of indirect costs.

He adds, “We have worked to make the new criteria and process of selection and support for University Research Centers transparent to the entire University community.”

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