Blue-collar campuses such as YSU look to research to attract higher quality students and professors.
YOUNGSTOWN (AP) -- Vincient Barnes landed a job at the prestigious Cleveland Clinic after earning his laboratory credentials at the blue-collar Youngstown State University, which is trying to upgrade its research image.
The school's move enabled him to stay close to home while getting a chance to publish research findings and to strengthen his job skills through seminars where research work is presented to other students.
"In the job market, they look for publication. That's what drives the research industry," said Barnes, 33, of Campbell. He graduated in May with a bachelor's degree in biology and master's degree in chemistry and now manages a laboratory that studies how the body reacts to blood vessel inflammation.
Amid tuition caps and limited state funding, YSU and other traditional blue-collar campuses look to research for a chance to grow and attract higher quality students and professors.
With increased research opportunities, "Students see institutions like ours as a destination, rather than an institution of last resort," said Carl Drummond, associate vice chancellor of research at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. Most of its students are commuters and represent the first generation in their families to attend college, he said.
At YSU, research has included work on environmental cleanup techniques that could be useful in tainted industrial areas in the Rust Belt. The Fort Wayne campus is focusing its research on the job market in an 11-county region, including defense industry contractors.
The state-run University at Buffalo, already a major player with $171 million in research spending in 2003, is looking to expand further as a hedge against uncertain state subsidies. Finding additional outside money is critical, the university said in its pitch for applicants for a research vice president with an expanded role.
YSU, a former municipal university which traditionally focused on teaching, had a record $6.5 million in research last year. That's tiny compared with Ohio State's $528 million but a nearly six-fold increase since 1994 and 47 percent increase in the past two years.
"It was sort of a sleeping giant for a long, long time," said Peter J. Kasvinsky, YSU's dean of graduate studies, which historically are a major lure in attracting research grants from government and foundations.
He said grants allow faculty to devote time to research and hire students to assist that work. The money eventually can help a school attract better professors and students by raising its profile.
While research can reduce a professor's time in the classroom, Kasvinsky said YSU professors doing research typically still teach undergraduates, and grants allow hiring extra faculty to take up any classroom slack.
Trouble attracting money
Smaller campuses that, for example, may have focused historically on teacher training may have trouble attracting grant money, according to William E. Knight, who directs institutional research at Bowling Green State University. He is a director with the Tallahassee, Fla.-based Association for Institutional Research, representing campus researchers.
"We don't have the mix of degree programs that attract research programs" like medicine and engineering, Knight said. Bowling Green instead has focused research on its historic strength, education and teacher training.
Like the Fort Wayne campus, Kasvinsky said YSU doesn't aspire to become a major research campus -- state policy typically assigns that role to the biggest state schools -- but can use research to train people for key industries in the region.
"Because the steel mills collapsed, it's very important to generate a whole new class of people in any [job] area that will help generate economic opportunity," Kasvinsky said. Youngstown was a steelmaking center until the mills closed in the 1980s.
It's critical for students to understand that their teachers are involved in their academic specialty and see a professor as "a fundamental knowledge creator" and not just one dishing out existing know-how, Drummond said.
Campus research also allows students to test their interest in a field.
With a $700,000 National Science Foundation grant, a team led by YSU's Chester R. Cooper Jr., an associate professor of biological sciences, is putting 20 graduate and undergraduate students to work studying proteins.
The school's seed money to get projects started demonstrated to the science foundation that the university was committed to protein research, Cooper said. When he asked for $400,000, he was awarded nearly twice as much.
Ron Propri, 26, of Niles, a physics major set to graduate in May, has made YSU-sponsored research trips to Canada and twice each to Germany and Japan.
"As undergraduates at YSU, which does not offer graduate work in physics, students have the opportunity to get their hands on things only grad students would see elsewhere," Propri said in an e-mail.
"When I apply to grad schools, I will have an advantage in that I have been around the block, so to speak."
At Fort Wayne, the university said encouraging a research culture has helped attract more full-time students out of high school instead of older part-time students. It also is getting higher quality faculty candidates.
"We're finding we're getting applications from Ph.D. students from very prestigious schools," Drummond said.