Ferguson Academic Seed Grant Fund aims to explore root causes of unrest

New program will support research to study issues, seek sustainable solutions

St LouisSince last August, the St. Louis region has struggled to confront significant, difficult and divisive issues concerning racism and inequality. In an attempt to more fully understand the root causes of the protest and unrest that arose in the wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown, Washington University in St. Louis is launching a new seed grant program that will provide funding for innovative research projects and programs that aim not only to explore the underlying issues, but also to seek and implement long-term, sustainable solutions to ongoing challenges.

“As a part of the St. Louis community, it is our role to participate in the learning and healing process, and to work toward positive change,” Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton said. “As a research university, it is our responsibility to seek understanding, ask difficult questions, and delve into the issues at the core of the complex issues we face. The Ferguson Academic Seed Grant Fund program is an opportunity for us to do both.”

Established by the Offices of the Chancellor and the Provost, the Ferguson Academic Seed Grant Fund will provide awards of up to $7,500 to Washington University faculty members in support of individual research projects and enhancements to academic curricula. Larger amounts will be available to support a limited number of major impact grants.

The fund will operate under the oversight of a steering committee that will select proposals that facilitate intellectual discourse, support curricular innovation, promote new research, or invite academic residencies on relevant issues and topics.

“From an academic perspective, we have an unprecedented opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the complicated challenges inherent in the unresolved tensions within our community,” said Adrienne D. Davis, JD, vice provost and the William M. Van Cleve Professor of Law, who will co-chair the steering committee with Dedric A. Carter, PhD, associate provost, associate vice chancellor for innovation and entrepreneurship, and professor of engineering practice.

“In the classroom and in the field, there is much to be studied, learned, shared and taught,” Davis said, “to bring us closer to enacting the change needed to create sustainable and egalitarian urbanization and to address racial and economic disparities.”

The funding will focus on projects with Washington University faculty as principal investigators. The ultimate goal, however, is to foster an environment of leadership in scholarly discourse, ideation and the development of solutions related to these issues. In addition to faculty grants, such leadership requires engaging the larger regional community, through partnerships with faculty and students from other higher education institutions and supporting organizations. Toward that end, faculty members from other regional institutions are encouraged to apply for multi-institutional grant support with a Washington University faculty co-principal investigator.

“We cannot resolve these critical challenges in a vacuum,” said Carter, who, prior to joining the Washington University administration, served as senior adviser for strategic initiatives in the Office of the Director at the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF).

“We are eager to offer the Washington University community the opportunity to dive deeply into these complex issues,” Carter said. “We understand that there are myriad highly valuable resources, in the St. Louis community and beyond, that can and should be engaged in order to realize the full potential of this initiative. Without question, our efforts and energies are better and stronger together.”

Steering committee members are:

  • John N. Constantino, MD, the Blanche F. Ittleson Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics and director of the William Greenleaf Division of Child Psychiatry;
  • Ron Cytron, PhD, professor of computer science and engineering in the School of Engineering & Applied Science;
  • Gerald Early, PhD, the Merle King Professor of Modern Letters and professor of English and director of African and African-American Studies, both in Arts & Sciences;
  • Tonya Edmond, PhD, associate professor at the Brown School;
  • Liz Kramer, assistant director of community-based design and sustainability in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts;
  • Bruce Lindsey, dean of architecture and the E. Desmond Lee Professor for Community Collaboration;
  • Laurie Maffly-Kipp, PhD, the Archer Alexander Distinguished Professor in the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics and professor in the humanities in Arts & Sciences;
  • William G. Powderly, MD, the J. William Campbell Professor of Medicine, co-director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the School of Medicine, and director of the Institute for Public Health;
  • Peggie R. Smith, JD, vice dean for academic affairs and the Charles F. Nagel Professor of Employment and Labor Law at the School of Law;
  • Ray Sparrowe, PhD, associate professor of organizational behavior at Olin Business School;
  • Jeffrey Trzeciak, university librarian;
  • Rebecca Wanzo, PhD, associate professor of women, gender and sexuality studies in Arts & Sciences and interim director of the Center for Humanities; and
  • Carol Camp Yeakey, PhD, professor of education in Arts & Sciences, director of the Center on Urban Research and Public Policy and director of the Urban Studies Program.

In addition to Carter and Davis, ex officio committee members also include Sharon Stahl, PhD, vice chancellor for students; Jennifer R. Smith, PhD, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences; and Jennifer K. Lodge, PhD, vice chancellor for research.

“One of the most important components of the seed fund program is its interdisciplinary nature,” Powderly said. “By selecting projects for funding from a wide variety of scholarly fields, we can look at the issues through a diverse range of lenses to gain a full understanding of what the problems really are. Only then can we begin to work toward truly meaningful solutions.”

An initial formal round of proposals will begin this spring, followed by two more rounds in the fall and spring semesters of the 2016-17 academic year. Details, including deadlines and instructions for the application process, will be available in February.