Harvey Mudd College Wins NSF Grant to Encourage Researcher Collaboration

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Harvey Mudd College has received $100,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund a conference project that will connect academic researchers in the STEM fields and help them establish connections across the NSF Germination research community.

Patrick Little, HMC professor emeritus of engineering and visiting scholar, will co-chair the conference workshop “Prototyping, Developing and Exploring Collaborative Relationships Among Germination Researchers” with Tom Maiorana, assistant professor in the Department of Design at UC Davis. Their project supports the Germination program by bringing together sponsored research teams to discuss, critique and intellectually support one another.

Managed and supported by the NSF Office of Emerging Frontiers and Multidisciplinary Activities, the Germination program “supports the design of pedagogical frameworks, platforms and/or environments that enable academic researchers in STEM fields to conceive research ideas and questions with potentially transformative outcomes.” Staff support will be provided by two HMC students and one graduate student from UC Davis.

“Transformational research that addresses significant challenges will require reaching across disciplinary lines,” says Little, a prior Germination awardee for “EAGER: Using Human-Centered Design to Conceptualize and Prototype Ways to Increase Graduate Student Engagement with Transformative Research.” Results from the EAGER research were presented at the recent 2022 International Social Innovation Research Conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia. “Our workshops will expand these interactions in this year’s meeting of the Germination research community. We are particularly excited at the prospect of Germination researchers returning from virtual meetings to face-to-face interactions.”

The 2022–2023 meetings will help establish longer-term relationships among past, present and future Germination researchers that outlive the length of individual grants. A virtual workshop is planned for fall 2022, and an in-person workshop to develop relationships will be held in spring 2023 at Harvey Mudd College. Each event will emphasize interaction, recognition of interesting and creative approaches and identification of connections.

Recognizing and supporting previous Germination participants and linking them to the current cohort creates opportunities to build upon prior work, raise the level of positive feedback on new research, and energize both past and current Germination PIs. The workshops will serve as prototypes for how researchers can build communities that continue to support and challenge one another beyond the life of their grants.

“The most important challenges we will face in the next several decades will require our best minds to engage and work collaboratively,” says Little. “Our research identified important barriers to the recruitment and retention of some of those best minds. In addition, our work exposed new ways of thinking about and practicing interdisciplinary collaboration. These workshops will allow us to extend our own research while supporting others.”