$3.2 M Grant Breaks New Ground In Graduate Education

Norfolk State University is using a $3.2 million grant to break new ground in graduate research education. The Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) requires doctoral candidates to break out of their discipline-specific backgrounds and cross disciplinary boundaries—an approach that is expected to shake up traditional graduate research education. It also helps address the growing need for professionals to work across fields to create innovative solutions for complex problems.

Under the National Science Foundation grant, Norfolk State’s IGERT project focuses on the magnetic and nanostructured materials (MNM) area, which brings together the fields of chemistry, computer science, physics, biology, engineering, materials science and engineering education. Known as IGERT-MNM, the project’s goal is to train students to conduct research that will lead to faster, smaller and more efficient devices and technologies with numerous applications, and in the process, help them become change agents for how research is performed and graduate education is delivered in the future.

“Graduate education is generally done in silos, with students learning about a specific discipline, and even more so about a specific research project,” said Suely Black, chemistry professor and the program director. “The IGERT-MNM regularly exposes students to research done outside their comfort zone, challenging them to apply the skills and knowledge they have accumulated in their disciplines to a topic outside their training.”

Norfolk State, which is the lead investigator on the project, is developing this new approach through a partnership with Cornell and Purdue universities. The project grant is being distributed over a five-year period with NSU receiving nearly $2.3 million while Cornell and Purdue will receive approximately $900,500 over the same period. “NSU is the only Historically Black College or University that currently is funded by the National Science Foundation under the IGERT program,” said Black. “This program is highly competitive and mostly only large and resourceful institutions are able to present a compelling case for funding.”

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