Foundation and corporate grants accelerate research at Brown
The past year was particularly successful for faculty working alongside Brown Advancement’s Corporate and Foundation Relations team, with more than $26 million in grants awarded to support promising projects in a range of disciplines.
Taking calculated risks. Thinking outside the box. Recruiting inventive collaborators. Every day, Brown faculty translate these actions into breakthroughs that push the boundaries of our understanding and lead to meaningful change. And new faculty recruitments through the BrownTogether campaign have increased the opportunities for innovation in a variety of disciplines.
But in order to clear the way for progress, these faculty need significant support. Increasingly, corporations and foundations are awarding Brown faculty grants that recognize the vast potential of their work to address the most pressing issues of our time.
In fiscal year 2021, the Corporate and Foundation Relations team within Advancement — Brown’s fundraising and alumni engagement arm — worked often with the Office of the Vice President for Research and University leadership to help Brown faculty apply for highly competitive grants and prestigious awards. Faculty earned awards from organizations like the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the W. M. Keck Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, the Warren Alpert Foundation, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island, and Pfizer, to name a few.
Below, read about the impact of this funding on five faculty projects.
Giving voice to the unheard stories of New England
In February 2021, the University announced that the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice (CSSJ) had been awarded a $4.9 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The CSSJ project was one of 16 chosen from more than 165 proposals. The grant enables the center to bring the untold stories of Indigenous and African American communities in colonial New England to the forefront in collaboration with Williams College and the Mystic Seaport Museum.
The grant — which is part of the Mellon Foundation’s Just Futures Initiative — invited “multidisciplinary, university-based teams across the U.S. committed to racial justice and social equality to propose ambitious humanities-based projects that would address racial inequality in bold and imaginative ways.” To apply for this highly competitive grant, the center worked with stakeholders from across College Hill — including Brown’s Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative, the Brown University Library, and Advancement’s Corporate and Foundation Relations team.
“The call for proposals allowed us to concretely envision a three-year project that would tell new stories, reach broader audiences, and have a deep and lasting impact on each of our institutions,” says Anthony Bogues, director of the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice.
The project, titled “Reimagining New England Histories: Historical Injustice, Sovereignty and Freedom”, explores the foundations of racial injustice, inequity, and the continued marginalization of Indigenous communities during the colonial era. In telling new and different stories, the project amplifies the voices of communities that have been left out of mainstream historical narratives.
There are four main components to the work: a new research cluster at CSSJ, an online “decolonial archive,” a major exhibition at the Mystic Seaport Museum, and expanded courses on historical injustice in early America for students at Williams and Brown. In all aspects of the project, investigators hope to involve the various Indigenous and African American communities and foreground their voices.
“We would not have been able to undertake such an expansive project without the support of the Mellon Foundation’s Just Futures Initiative,” says Bogues. “Foundation support allows us to be flexible and creative. It can help to inspire new collaborations and connections. But most importantly, amplifying community voices will transform both public historical narratives and the ways we do scholarly work.”
Developing novel statistical tools to analyze biological data
This year Lorin Crawford, the RGSS Assistant Professor of Biostatistics in the School of Public Health, became Brown’s first-ever recipient of the Packard Fellowship from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. The grant will support his work developing machine learning algorithms to study the complex gene interactions that contribute to disease, as well as devising methods of using tumor shape information from 3D imaging to understand what’s happening to an individual on a molecular level.
“Through this work, I’m hoping to bridge the gap between classical variable selection in statistics and more modern machine learning,” Crawford says. “Machine learning algorithms do a great job of capturing non-linear effects, so if we increase the use of these algorithms we can improve how we predict people’s risk for certain diseases.”
Crawford’s long-term goal is to reach a point where patients can have an MRI or some other kind of imaging done, and without doing any other invasive procedures, their clinician can run their imaging against a library of other people’s diagnostic images and match up disease signatures. “This would give doctors a head start on what drug strategies could be most useful for each individual,” he says.
Crawford’s research incorporates aspects of statistics, applied mathematics, physics, and genomics. It requires data acquisition for diverse populations and extensive collaboration with peers whose research interests intersect with his. The Packard Fellowship will allow him to do both.
“Funding like this, from a foundation that doesn’t put boundaries on what you can use it for, is important for getting access to data from the few biobanks and consortiums that collect it in the quantities we need for these studies,” he says. “The fellowship also gives me access to people who have interdisciplinary expertise and knowledge of how to traverse terrain where there aren’t a lot of baselines.”
Françoise Hamlin, Royce Family Associate Professor of Teaching Excellence in Africana Studies and History, was awarded an Andrew Carnegie Fellowship from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. This prestigious fellows program supports high-caliber scholarly research in the social sciences and humanities that addresses important and enduring issues confronting our society. Hamlin is the first senior scholar at Brown to receive the award.
Her book project will explore the physical and psychological impacts of activism on the young people who stood on the front lines of the American civil rights movement. Drawing from oral histories, text, video, and photo archives, as well as American literature and academic publications about the era, Hamlin hopes to bring the complex trauma and resilience of this generation into the light in order to promote healing and prevent current young activists from enduring the same pain.
“It is an exceptional honor to receive the Andrew Carnegie Fellowship,” says Hamlin. “This award brings visibility to my project and supports the final stages of research and writing through teaching leave. At Brown, I have a heavy service commitment, and time remains the most valuable resource.”
Royce Family Associate Professor of Teaching Excellence in Africana Studies and History Françoise Hamlin (right) was awarded an Andrew Carnegie Fellowship.
The Rhode Island Life Index Project
Where people are born and live has a profound impact on their lives. To gather important evidence about health outcomes and overall well-being in various Rhode Island zip codes, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island (BCBSRI) teamed up with Brown’s School of Public Health to fund the Rhode Island Life Index (RILI) Project. Now in its third year, this project surveys residents across the state about their perceptions of community health and well-being where they live. The survey focuses on social determinants of health among Rhode Island residents to produce data useful for improving health and decreasing disparities throughout the Rhode Island community.
The RILI survey is led by Brown principal investigator Dr. Melissa Clark, associate dean for academic affairs; professor of health services, policy and practice; and professor of obstetrics and gynecology. For the past two years, Rhode Islanders have cited access to affordable, nutritious food; availability and quality of civic, social, and healthcare services for older adults; and programs and services available for children as strengths in Rhode Island. In contrast, respondents saw the lack of quality affordable housing, job opportunities, and job training programs as areas for improvement, and noted that the cost of living was a burden. BCBSRI is already using the data collected to develop new approaches and strengthen existing programs across the state.
Professor of Engineering Pradeep Guduru and Associate Professor of Engineering Jacob Rosenstein are the principal investigators who received a Keck Research Grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation. This is the third time it has been awarded to faculty at Brown and the first such award for the School of Engineering.
Through this grant, Guduru (whose background is in solid mechanics) and Rosenstein (whose research focuses on electronics and sensors) will apply their expertise toward the construction of a ten million frames-per-second infrared microscope, which can measure highly transient, localized temperature fields in materials at unprecedented temporal and spatial resolutions. The project incorporates state-of-the-art advances in integrated-circuit design and nano-fabrication technologies to achieve the high-speed image acquisition.
The improvement in visualization with this piece of equipment could affect how accurately scientists can predict earthquakes and produce better understanding of the dynamics involved with materials used for mining, civil engineering, and national defense. In addition, the in-house system design will result in intellectual property with significant potential for commercialization.
“I think this is an example of work that wasn’t going to get done unless the Keck Foundation stepped in because of its scientific riskiness,” says Rosenstein. “One of the technical leaps that we’ll be taking is that we’ll be moving the data acquisition electronics from a circuit board that might be the size of a dinner plate to a silicon chip, which is the size of your fingernail. That leap is part of what’s making the project more involved than anything done previously. Investing in these kinds of new instrument designs and new collaborations is a great way to seed new directions for the University.”
“This project involves pushing the boundaries of a number of technologies — ideas coming together from computer engineering, optics, and mechanics,” says Guduru. “And these are exactly the type of projects that the Keck Foundation is interested in. The fact that Brown engineering faculty were recognized by the foundation shows that the school has top-notch programs that foster big ideas. And that type of recognition can hopefully convince other donors to invest in Brown.”