Seven Goals in Five Years

By William Grabe
Vice President for Research

Five years ago I was the last Vice Provost for Research at Northern Arizona University (NAU); now I'm the new Vice President for Research. I am happy to say that many changes have been made in the intervening years, even if we face some of the same challenges and some new ones. 

Where we are now


The current Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) is certainly larger and more specialized than it was before. We now have a greater focus on technology transfer and the translation of academic discoveries to useable applications. We have automated grant- application submissions, and we will soon have new software (Cayuse SP) to streamline the transfer of grant data from pre-award to post-award administration in Sponsored Projects Services (SPS). The savings of time and energy with Cayuse SP should become apparent within four to five months, and the same is true for tracking budgets and expenditures in the PeopleSoft system.

Over the past five years, the Office of Regulatory Compliance has become a major operation at NAU, and this was a sorely needed improvement. We are now all safer on campus, and our external research efforts clearly meet federal and state expectations for safety and compliance.

Perhaps the biggest change is the much greater university focus on developing the research mission of NAU. Although, in response to the fiscal crisis, there has been a loss in the number of tenure-track faculty (the lifeblood of external grant research), the grant-award dollars and the number of PIs (principal investigators) at NAU have remained at a steady level. This is certainly a tribute to the hard-working and dedicated NAU faulty. One thing that hasn't changed is the diligence and commitment of the OVPR staff and administration to help in every way possible during less-than-ideal times.

Some of the challenges we face

Student Researcher

There are many learning opportunities for students at NAU. Photo: IDEA Lab

Ah..., those challenges. Yes, we have some challenges as we work to increase our research capacity, seek out new research possibilities, use our research to support advanced graduate and undergraduate learning opportunities, and act on a more-inclusive understanding of the notion of research (including scholarship and creative activity).

First, we have a mandate from the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) to increase our grant-funded external research at a time when grant competition is stiffer and internal resources to support research are more limited. 

Second, we are now working in a world in which federal and state compliance requirements are becoming more intrusive and demanding. Some of you may think that the new compliance requirements are just our way of torturing you; but trust me, we are only doing what we are required to do to protect the university and its ability to continue receiving external grant dollars.

Third, faculty and staff are being stretched ever thinner, while being asked to do more. But we are all doing our best to be strategic and efficient with the resources that we have. 

Seven key goals over the next five years

On the bright side, we do have some real and achievable goals for the coming years. Over the next five years, we are and will be:

  1. Using funds from the newly formed Research Investment Fund (RIF) and the Technology and Research Investment Fund (TRIF) to support new post-doctoral scholars on campus and to purchase sorely needed equipment for multiple groups of faculty across many disciplines, 
  2. Providing more-inclusive support for faculty who typically engage in scholarship and creative activity outside of the hard sciences,
  3. Industriously supporting faculty and staff in grant-application processes, and we will try to limit any new burdens from various compliance requirements, 
  4. Focusing on ways to translate academic discoveries into potential products that can be commercialized, emphasizing technology-transfer outcomes, 
  5. Student Researcher

    2012 Engineering Capstone Project: Universally Designed Audiovisual Control System.

    Exploring how to plan for future directions in academic research. We are trying to anticipate where NAU should be positioning itself five to seven years from now, 
  6. Continuing to be strongly dedicated to the teaching and mentoring of graduate and undergraduate students through many research capstone projects, research job opportunities, and research internships, and 
  7. Promoting the research work of our faculty and staff to outside audiences. There are many great stories to tell, and we are working on telling them. 

We recognize that many NAU faculty and staff are engaged in exceptional research activities. We will commit our energy and resources to help everyone at NAU pursue these opportunities. Please let us know how we can be more successful in supporting and fostering research at NAU.

© 2013 Arizona Board of Regents.
Northern Arizona University, South San Francisco Street, Flagstaff, Arizona 86011