Schiller Institute announces faculty grants

Environmental history, household water purification, and wind energy among funded projects

The Schiller Institute for Integrated Science and Society has awarded grants totaling approximately $500,000 to 15 faculty projects focused on areas of energy, the environment, health, and faculty collaboration, institute Seidner Family Executive Director Laura J. Steinberg recently announced.

This round of grant-making marks the third year of the institute’s Grants for Exploratory Collaborative Scholarship (SI-GECS) and the inaugural round of a new tier of grants called Research in Targeted and Emerging Areas (SI-RITEA).

Laura Steinbert

Schiller Institute for Integrated Science and Society Seidner Family Executive Director Laura J. Steinberg

“The popularity of the program, and the tremendous quality of the proposals we receive, is indicative of the hunger for faculty and students to engage in meaningful, intellectual activity with each other,” said Steinberg. “With so many of the projects resulting in impacts beyond campus, we are demonstrating the BC community's commitment to engage with the world and help to make real change in people's lives.”

From 30 applications to the two programs, funding went to five SI-GECS proposals and 10 SI-RITEA proposals. The institute awarded one Type 1 SI-GECS grant and four Type 2 grants, which provide as much as $50,000 per award to support a graduate research assistant.  

The new SI-RITEA initiative focuses on two different types of grants. Six Type A grants were awarded to support scholarship focusing on the natural environment, health and well-being, or the energy transition as experienced in the Global South. Four Type B grants were awarded to support projects on environmental or climate justice, environmental health, sustainability, or renewable energy in collaboration with an external partner.

“The SI-GECS program has been very successful and we’re very proud of the accomplishments of those grantees,” said Steinberg. “At the same time, I could sense that there was a desire on campus for additional internal funding opportunities. In addition, we’ve been able to hone in on specific focus areas for the institute with the hiring of our first three core faculty members. Working with our core faculty helped me decide that two areas of growth for Schiller would be exploring societal issues as experienced in the Global South and developing strong relationships with community partners.”

Type B grants must include collaboration with a United States-based, non-academic partner, such as a non-governmental organization, business, or government entity, according to Steinberg. Collaborations with Massachusetts partners are encouraged.

For example, Professor of History Conevery Bolton Valencius’s project will partner with the Neponset River Watershed Association and the Institute for New England Native American Studies at University of Massachusetts-Boston on a project examining the environmental history of the lower Neponset River, along the southern boundary of the City of Boston.

Compared to SI-GECS, the SI-RITEA program looks for projects that have more specific focus areas, and faculty are not required to have a collaborator on the project. SI-GECS projects require at least two BC faculty who must be from different disciplines.

The SI-RITEA grantees are required to participate in two roundtable meetings each semester. The purpose of the meetings is to share research progress, discuss areas of common interest, and formulate plans for potential future work.

“With so many of the projects resulting in impacts beyond campus, we are demonstrating the BC community's commitment to engage with the world and help to make real change in people's lives.”

Examples of the SI-RITEA awards include Assistant Professor of Engineering Ali Salifu’s “Ceramic water filters for household water purification in limited-resource settings,” which will involve work with communities in his native Ghana.

“This project aims to develop the next generation of ceramic water filters that concurrently remove bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and heavy chemicals from water in a way that addresses the potential barriers to implementation, namely: the cost of ownership and the rate at which the filters break,” Salifu wrote.

Of the SI-RITEA proposals, Steinberg said, “I am thrilled with the variety of countries, continents, and organizations that the faculty and students are working with. Most are partnering with local organizations who will help us translate our efforts for immediate impact. The ambition of our faculty to get connected with people and communities all over the world is inspiring.”

During the first two years of the SI-GECS initiative, 15 projects received funding totaling $410,000 in 2021 and last year 12 projects received funding that added up to approximately $420,000.

The inaugural round of SI-GECS grants has produced a range of scholarly output, Steinberg said. From the first cohort, 19 papers have been published, project investigators submitted 24 applications for external funding, with 14 proposals yielding funding of $3.25 million. Additionally, researchers made 84 presentations in a variety of settings. The projects trained more than 40 undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

Steinberg said she is just as excited about this year’s class of SI-GECS recipients.

“We have some of the best scientists on campus working with each other on issues of critical importance,” she said. “For example, I am thrilled that we are able support Lynch School of Education and Human Development Associate Professor Betty Lai and Associate Professor of Communication Mo Jones-Jang’s collaborative work on the public communication of scientific discovery, and the work of Associate Professor of Economics Rich Sweeney and Professor of Eath and Environmental Sciences [and Schiller Core Faculty Professor] Yi Ming on the challenges of developing wind energy capacity.”

A full list of awardees can be found on the institute website: SI-GECS and SI-RITEA.