On June 9, the four winning teams in the UNC and N.C. A&T Looking Forward Pilot Research Program were announced and acknowledged for their research addressing complex issues facing North Carolinians.
The initiative was co-created by Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and N.C. A&T Chancellor Harold L. Martin, Sr. and launched in January 2022 to foster collaborative research between the two universities.
“What the program really encouraged was research that had to draw on the complementary and collaborative partnerships at each institution," UNC Interim Vice Chancellor for Research Penny Gordon-Larsen explained.
Gordon-Larsen added that both universities worked together to lay out the program's priorities so that they reflected the intent of both chancellors.
The Looking Forward program sought proposals in four separate areas of research: Data Science and Society, Environment and Environmental Justice, Health Disparities and Cancer and Cancer-Related Research.
Initially, the call for proposals only included three priority areas, but the Lineberger Cancer Center stepped in to provide the fourth priority area of cancer research, according to Gordon-Larsen.
The winning teams from those four priority areas received $200,000 in funding over the course of two years. The initiative is funded by the chancellors’ office at each University and by the UNC Lineberger Cancer Center.
The Looking Forward program opened to research proposals earlier this year and received 34 expressions of interest. After the peer-review process of the initial submissions was completed, 14 teams qualified to compete as finalists.
The research finalists were asked to create final proposals for their research plans and four teams were selected. The winning teams of the research funding were acknowledged last Thursday at a ceremony at the Alumni-Foundation Event Center on N.C. A&T’s campus.
“The teams are already off to such a great start, and they're already working so well together – so, we're just very excited about the potential work that they have ahead of them,” Gordon-Larsen said.
Dr. Russell Broaddus, the chair of the UNC Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, serves as the leader of the Cancer & Cancer Related Research team.
“The overall goal of this is to join groups from very different universities, and try to see if there's any synergy to get a really particular research problem solved,” Broaddus said.
Broaddus partnered with Emmanuel Obeng-Gyasi, an assistant professor in the Department of Built Environment at N.C. A&T, to address the concerning rise in endometrial cancer, especially among Black women.
UNC Renaissance Computing Institute Director of Analytics and Data Science Chris Bizon and N.C. A&T Built Environment professor Leila Hashemi-Beni are the team leads for the winning team in the Data Science and Society category.
With the funds from the program, the research team will create an emergency response data modeling tool that will be useful in and out of North Carolina. The team will also utilize 34 complex data streams from places like weather, humans and built infrastructure.
In the Health Disparities category, Dr. Becky White and Sharon Parker partnered together to lead the research team on COVID-19 testing and vaccination rates at large at Wake County jail.
White is an associate professor at the UNC School of Medicine and Parker is an associate professor of Sociology and Social Work at N.C. A&T. White explained that funding from the program will allow the team to offer free COVID-19 testing for inmates, along with more information on getting vaccinated.
“Almost all of the funding will be spent on a steady nurse whose purpose is to really go in and try to better understand attitudes and beliefs about testing and vaccination among individuals who are incarcerated in the Wake County Jail,” White said.
Rick Luettich, the lead principal investigator at the Coastal Resilience Center and director of both the UNC Center for Natural Hazards Resilience and UNC Institute of Marine Sciences, and Liping Liu, an associate professor of mathematics at N.C. A&T, are the team leads for the winning research team under the Environment and Environmental Justice category.
Luettich and Liu will focus their research on improving the prediction of flooding associated with tropical cyclones along the North Carolina coast.
N.C. A&T is the largest HBCU in the nation, and Luettich said he is grateful to take these collaborations with the school's professors to the next step.
“They're incredibly talented, very interested, and I think oftentimes, they have to have such a focus on the courses that they have to deliver, that they don't have the opportunity to research topics and so if anything, I think they really enjoy the chance to focus on some research work,” Luettich said.
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