UM Sets Research Funding Record for Third Straight Year

Research continues to surge at a record pace at the University of Montana, with the institution setting a record for external funding for the third year in a row.

UM brought in nearly $88 million in new funding during the past fiscal year to support homegrown Montana research, entrepreneurship and statewide outreach. This exceeds the previous year’s record of $86 million.

University researchers also set a record for expenditures from previously awarded grants and contracts in the amount of $88 million — a 12 percent increase from the previous year’s $78.5 million record total. The new expenditure total is 50 percent higher than the 2014 fiscal year amount of $58.3 million.

Diana Six, UM professor of forest entomology and pathology, is a renowned mountain pine beetle researcher.

The number of proposals submitted by faculty for research support also increased, from 684 proposals last year to 716 this year.

Scott Whittenburg, UM vice president for research and creative scholarship, said these benchmarks all indicate that research at UM will continue to grow.

“Our upward trajectory indicates that the University of Montana continues to recruit and retain the best researchers from across the country and internationally,” he said. “The productivity of our faculty is on par with elite institutions anywhere.”

Whittenburg said UM faculty members are the foundation for UM’s growing research efforts.

“I am appreciative of our faculty’s efforts to seek new funding opportunities and to conduct world-class research,” he said. “I also acknowledge the work of staff both within the departments and in the sponsored programs office that support the faculty in their research.”

He highlighted some of UM’s newest awards brought in by faculty members.

Andrew Whiteley in his UM lab

Andrew Whiteley, an assistant professor of fisheries and conservation genomics, received the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious award for junior faculty, the Faculty Early Career Development award or CAREER grant. Whiteley will receive more than $800,000 over five years as he and his graduate students experimentally translocate small numbers of trout among isolated natural populations as a window into understanding the effects of gene exchange. This is the fourth NSF CAREER award earned by UM assistant professors in the past two years and, Whittenburg said indicates the talent level new faculty being recruited by the University.

“What’s wonderful is that our students get to interact with and work alongside powerhouse researchers and scholars,” Whittenburg said.

UM faculty also received a $3 million NSF grant to train graduate students in innovations at the nexus of food, energy and water systems. The funding is part of the NSF Research Traineeship program and includes funding for up to 30 graduate students.

These research accomplishments and the growth of enrolled graduate students (up 200 since spring semester) indicate that the University is on a path to achieving Carnegie R1 or Research Highest Activity status to place it among the elite research universities across the country.

“What’s great about UM’s growing research sector is that labs employ a lot of people, which generates economic activity for Montana,” said Joe Fanguy, UM executive director of Accelerate MT. “UM research is also generating lots of new technology of importance to Montanans — from solutions to the pine park beetle epidemic, to advances in addressing traumatic brain injuries experienced all too often by our veterans and athletes.”

UM Research Professor Sarj Patel works with UM students in his lab on campus. Patel studies traumatic brain injuries.