Natural resources: Support helps faculty become self-sustaining

Posted on 24. Jan, 2014 by in Academic Departments, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Environment and Sustainability, Features, Gift Report, Issues, People, Research, Students

When a department hires a new faculty member, funding from the College of Engineering and the UW-Madison Graduate School helps to pay that person’s salary.

However, new faculty also need a way to start research programs. Private gifts provide the initial support for faculty startup packages, which cover stipends, scholarships, and fellowships for students to take part in research.

The hope for faculty is that they’ll kick-start their work at UW-Madison and pursue externally funded research. In fact, researchers often need to conduct preliminary studies before they can write a strong grant proposal to attract funding from other sources. With resources to hit the ground running on research, new faculty can be more self-sufficient in the long run. “The idea is that it becomes self-sustaining, that people build this into a research enterprise that earns support from other sources outside UW-Madison throughout their whole career,” says Wisconsin Distinguished Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Craig Benson. “It helps faculty become entrepreneurial in seeking support for their research.”

Benson says the impact of startup packages still shows even for faculty members who are further along in their careers. As an example, he points to the research experience for undergraduates in energy geotechnics, which Civil and Environmental Engineering Associate Professor Dante Fratta and Assistant Professor Jim Tinjum have built into a successful annual program sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

Providing new faculty members with resources isn’t simply a matter of aiding a single career. It also creates opportunities for dozens of undergraduate and graduate students. In fact, in fall 2013, five faculty in civil and environmental engineering are using private support to provide research opportunities for nearly 75 students.

Developing critical thinking skills happens in the classroom—but only to a certain extent, says Benson. “The really rich development occurs in small groups, research and independent-study settings, where we’re asking each other very hard questions and require very rich answers,” he says. “The ability to create critical thinkers is one of the most important things we do. It takes society from good to great. And we kick-start that process through startup packages provided through philanthropy.”Bucky Badger head


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