Sharkey shares impact of Penn State research across University and beyond

Since the University’s founding when Penn State’s first president Evan Pugh set forth the college’s research vision in 1859, innovation and knowledge creation have been a foundational element of the land-grant mission, according to Neil Sharkey, vice president for research. 

Describing research as a “driver of progress,” Sharkey shared the impact Penn State research activities continue to have today throughout the University, across the Commonwealth and beyond in a presentation to the Board of Trustees at its Friday (Feb. 22) meeting. 

“Universities have become the country’s innovation centers and Penn State is no exception. Our research enterprise serves the Commonwealth, nation and the world through innovative approaches to creating new knowledge and solving the global challenges of our time,” said Sharkey. “Beyond our desire and ability to benefit humankind, our ranking and reputation as a leading research university helps to attract talented faculty, while also boosting student applications and providing experiences for students that enable career success.” 

As a top-25 research university, Penn State researchers are at the forefront of fields as varied as big data, combating the opioid crisis, personalized medicine, renewable energy, climate change, infectious disease, rural innovation, water and food security, and more.

With research expenditures hitting a record high of $927 million in the 2017-18 fiscal year, the scale and scope of Penn State’s research activities are crucial measurements of the University's standing among Association of American Universities (AAU), Big Ten peers and other world-class institutions. Penn State is one of only two institutions in the U.S. accorded land grant, sea grant, sun grant and space grant status; and Penn State University Libraries ranks 10th among North American research libraries, among other distinctions. 

To advance the potential of the research enterprise, the Office of the Vice President for Research collaborates with the University Research Council, deans and chancellors, and a broad range of units across Penn State in such areas as research protections, sponsored programs, ethics, commercialization and more. 

“The breadth of expertise and experience at Penn State helps us to maximize our impact in many crucial ways, from our collaborative interdisciplinary institutes and centers, to our entrepreneurial ecosystem across the state, to our current philanthropic campaign,” said Sharkey. 

At the trustees meeting, Sharkey shared a variety of examples outlining the positive impact of research across efforts to: 

Drive student opportunities and success

Attending a university as large and research-oriented as Penn State provides countless opportunities for students to collaborate across campus or continents, and over the past five years, nearly 8,000 students completed undergraduate research for academic credit. A variety of funding support and training grants are available to students through Penn State interdisciplinary institute and awards, Erickson Discovery Grants, federal training grants and corporate gifts. In 2017-18, external grants and contracts provided $24.7 million in graduate student research support, while 156 Erickson Discovery Grants were awarded to students at 11 Penn State campuses. 

Serve society

Through researchers andinterdisciplinary institutes, such as the Penn State Cancer Institute and Institutes of Energy and the Environment, Penn State is driving discovery in areas such as national security, malaria eradication, child maltreatment research and the development of climate-risk management strategies. For example, the Applied Research Laboratory at Penn State is a Department of Defense designated University-Affiliated Research Center that has supported national security efforts for more than 70 years with basic and applied research. More recently, a new Penn State Consortium to Combat Substance Abuse within the Social Sciences Research Institute is bringing together experts across the University to combat the opioid epidemic. 

Promote economic development and progress

As students, faculty, staff and community members engage in entrepreneurial activities, Penn State’s 21 LaunchBoxes across the state have attracted nearly $5 million in external matched and leveraged funds since 2016. With one of the nation’s friendliest intellectual property policies for industry sponsored research, Penn State continues to attract research partners from the private sector. On average, 500 companies, including many from Pennsylvania, sponsor projects every year. 

Attract leading faculty and outstanding students

Penn State’s sustained research growth, high scholarly output and citation count among AAU public institutions, number of Penn State faculty members in the National Academies, and ranking among the top producers of Fulbright scholars all help to attract outstanding faculty and students. In 2018, nearly 2,000 unique investigators received new awards and competitive renewals; and 967 sponsors provided awards.

Impact the world through discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship

A primary objective of Penn State’s philanthropic campaign, “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” is to impact the world through discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. With a focus on food, water and energy security; human health; and economic development and job creation, the “Impact the World” imperative is the campaign’s best performing and had reached 81 percent of its goal by the halfway mark in the campaign.

“Among our researchers, faculty and graduate and undergraduate students, we have enthusiastic thought leaders and knowledge creators whose hard work, ideas and projects are having a beneficial impact across the University and beyond,” Sharkey said. “There is so much potential in this space to continue to build upon our teaching and research enterprise to drive economic development, job creation and student career success, as we continue to address the most pressing issues of our time.”  

To take a look at the full presentation, visit https://www.psu.edu/ur/newsdocuments/Presidents_Research_Report_Feb2019.pdf.