Before the guiding principles for the future University of Texas Rio Grande Valley were established, the school was touted as a possible emerging research institution.
Although it will take some time for the school to be granted that type of status, administrators at both the University of Texas-Pan American and the University of Texas at Brownsville are looking at what can be done for the school to get there.
In Texas, there are eight emerging research universities, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordin ating Board.
Sadiq Shah, the vice provost for Research and Sponsored Projects at UTPA, made a presentation during last week’s joint meeting on what steps could be taken to hasten becoming an emerging re s earch institution.
Shah said he believes UTRGV could reach such status in as little as two years.
To be designated an emerging research institution, research expenditures need to be more than $30 million, the institution should offer 10 doctoral degree programs, have at least 150 students enrolled in those programs and grant 20 doctoral degrees every year.
Between UTB and UTPA, the school’s offer five doctoral degree programs, Shah said. UTPA has $29 million in awards, while UTB accrued approximately $15 million in awards, he said
His presentation at the meeting included three recommendations to help the two schools move toward an emerging research institution.
The first is to facilitate an easy transition for the grants that each school already has.
The UT System, Shah said, has an Office of Federal Relations in Washington, D.C., where conversations have already begun to make sure existing awards will carry over to UTRGV because legally, UTPA and UTB will cease to exist.
“We don’t want to be waiting until the new university is open and then address it,” Shah said. “We want to be proactive.”
“We want to make sure the process is smooth and nothing falls through the cracks,” Shah said during the presentation.
The second recommendation was to have an infrastructure of services, “that can facilitate the faculty members to be successful in seeking external funding.”
The goal, Shah said, is to put in place a system with a “team approach” where staff identify funding opportunities and bring them to the attention of faculty members.
“The goal is to make the process easier for faculty members so they are eager to submit more proposals,” Shah said.
The group’s final recommendation was that the new university focus on the programs that are already strong at UTB and UTPA.
Shah said that UTB’s College of Biomedical Sciences and UTPA’s College of Engineering can serve as breeding grounds for research opportunities that can be tied into the new medical school’s development.
Shah said there is an opportunity to create research-intensive degree programs that could link the medical school with partnerships and corporations in the region.
“You don’t have to necessarily hire a great deal of more faculty members,” Shah said. “We need to be able to support existing faculty members so they can be successfully carrying out their recent agenda and creating the next generation of biomedical engineers in the Rio Grande Valley.”
Other research-heavy fields at the schools that the new university could leverage are new materials and neuroscience. The goal would be to create clusters out of the areas the schools do well in, he said.
The opportunity is ripe to form relationships with companies who are in need of this technology, he said.
“All of that work and research will result in intellectual property,” he said. “We have to have mechanisms in place to commercialize that intellectual property.”
This, he said, will make students more competitive for the job market.