Research grants - bolster learning at Fresno State

University collects $165 million during the past five years. (Jan. 20, 2004 - By Jim Steinberg | From The Fresno Bee)

As California’s dire budget straits squeeze Fresno State, university officials take heart from $165 million in grants and contracts received in the past five years, the rough equivalent of the university’s budget for one year.

The money provides a way for California State University, Fresno, faculty members to do research and advance their expertise. It also improves their teaching, says Thomas H. McClanahan, associate vice president in charge of the grants and research office.

His pride in Fresno State’s growing research awards total is evident as he portrays the $165 million: "That’s one Save Mart Center with $65 million left over."

But the reduced state funding that forces reductions in Fresno State’s operations also limits the pot of available funding for grants. Fresno State finds itself contending with other major universities for its slice of a shrinking pie.

"I think we are going to have a few very challenging years," McClanahan says.

Fresno State President John Welty announced in November that McClanahan’s office will move from CSU Fresno Foundation offices south of Shaw Avenue onto campus this year. Welty wants to see Fresno State move from $48 million in grants and contracts won in 2002-03 to more than $75 million annually within a few years.

At least 15% of Fresno State’s faculty have research grants, McClanahan says, and they broaden and deepen learning at the university. He has no total for the number of students working on the research, but says there are many.

Grants have funded projects on diabetes care, data management, math and English preparation for rural secondary school students, and reduction of alcohol abuse on campus, among many others. McClanahan’s office tracks 533 project proposals from last fiscal year alone. Most won funding.

Joe Bezerra, executive director of the statewide California State University Agricultural Research Initiative, administered from Fresno State, is conspicuous as the listed director of grants funded for more than $7 million last fiscal year. He also is operations director for the California Agricultural Technology Institute at Fresno State. The institute’s objectives include arranging industry-academic research relationships.

Bezerra’s grants won funding from the state Department of Water Resources, the state Department of Food and Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, among others.

Those agencies’ funds finance research that elevates Fresno State’s faculty research, he says. Students can use money they earn on grant research to help pay their way through school. The research gives students laboratory experience and prepares them for real-world jobs.

Bezerra mentions research into irrigation drainage in the Westlands Water District. Successful research eventually may solve land contamination. That would allow growers to continue farming land that otherwise would have to be taken out of production, he says. That, in turn, would boost employment and the economies in west Valley farm towns.

The grant money also triggers matching funds in some cases from governments, industry groups and others.

Bezerra cited a project looking into ways to avoid contamination of the San Joaquin Delta by water moved through it for irrigation, and another looking for ways to combat the Mediterranean fruit fly.

A grant of $280,000 in federal funds, awarded through the California Department of Food and Agriculture, is financing the Farmworker Motor Vehicle Safety Project in Fresno and Tulare counties. The project aims to reduce deaths and injuries to farmworkers, their families and motorists on Valley roads.

Fresno State is seeking another $280,000 to extend the project into Madera, Kings and Kern counties.

"We wanted to find out the cause of these crashes," says Kimberly Naffziger, a program developer with the institute’s Center for Agricultural Business. "We looked at crash data from the California Highway Patrol. At first, we thought it was about drinking and about driving without a seat belt. We looked at data and saw it involved driving too fast, failure to yield, driving on the wrong side of the road and not observing signals and signs."

In parts of Mexico, she says, a blinking turn signal tells a trailing driver that it is safe to pass.

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