Research approach distinguishes BYU


    By Heather Danforth

    BYU faculty members from every department bring in more than a million dollars every month to fund a wide variety of research projects, upping the amount a little every year.

    Last year, BYU researchers brought more than $23 million for university research sponsored by either government or private sponsors, according to Gary Reynolds, director of the Office of Research and Creative Activities.

    “Even with a downturn in funding after Sept. 11, it was a very good year,” Reynolds said.

    This is compared to about $17 million in 2000 and about $9.5 million 10 years ago, during the 1990-91 academic year, Reynolds said.

    He attributes the increase to a new interest in research on the part of the university in general and new faculty members in particular.

    President Merrill J. Bateman encourages research, Reynolds said, and many new faculty members come to BYU with the assumption they will be performing research. Older faculty members also do research, but not as often as new faculty.

    “As we hire new faculty they replace professors who were hired in an era that had less emphasis on, and opportunity for, research,” said Gary Hooper, associate academic vice president for research and graduate studies.

    Reynolds expects the growth in research funding to continue, but not to reach the levels of major research universities.

    BYU encourages faculty to do research to help them remain on the cutting edge of their discipline and improve themselves as teachers, Reynolds said.

    Other universities receive more research dollars and have full-time research faculty. These universities receive hundreds of millions of research dollars per year, he said.

    “Our focus is on keeping faculty knowledgeable in their disciplines so they can teach,” Reynolds said. “It”s a different approach.”

    Because of BYU”s focus on undergraduate learning, it will probably not reach the level of schools like the University of Utah, which brought in about $255 million in 2001, according to Barbara Nielsen, director of government accounting and support services at the University of Utah.

    “Graduate research is critical, but not the main goal,” said Greg Burton, chemical engineering professor and director of the Advanced Combustion Engineering Research Center. “We”ll see it grow, but we aren”t going to grow up to the level of most mainstream universities.”

    Hooper thinks more focus on undergraduate involvement is contributing to the growth in research funding, while also keeping BYU focused more on teaching than research.

    “I think the university has a very unique way of looking at research,” Hooper said. “Our students figure much more prominently in our scholarship here than students did at universities where I was previously employed.”

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