From engineering to psychology, biology to social work, mathematics to law, University of Denver faculty members bring in millions of dollars each year to conduct research on behalf of federal, state and local governments, as well as corporations and foundations. The money is a boon not just to faculty members, but to the undergraduate and graduate students who play a vital part in the research process.
Under Corinne Lengsfeld, DU’s associate provost of research, the University has gone from approximately $19 million per year in research funding to $25.5 million last year.
Q: DU’s research funding is at a 15-year high. What types of opportunities do these grants provide for students?
A: It’s an incredible, life-changing experience for them, especially if they are engaged in a project for multiple years. Two years ago, when we were developing the University’s strategic plan, DU IMPACT 2025, one of the things that really struck me when we were meeting with students—graduate or undergraduate—was that the No. 1 thing they would talk about as being the best part of their education was being involved in research. It is a really impressive way for a student to learn different things.
Q: Are there more research possibilities for students at DU than there would be at a larger school?
A: I think the quality of the interaction is different. I came from a larger-background school myself, and when we did undergraduate research, a lot of the students were given more menial tasks in the research activities. A lot of the time it was lower-level tasks that didn’t allow them to be creative or innovative. At DU, because we have a balanced undergraduate-graduate population, faculty can’t do all their research just with graduate students. They must bring undergraduates in and demand of them almost master’s-level activity. On the graduate side, graduate students are directly interacting with and being mentored by faculty, but they’re also getting to see and watch the direct mentoring of the undergraduate students. So they get to learn firsthand about how you mentor people. It makes them more successful when they leave here to go to another PhD program or they leave here to be a postdoc, or they leave to work at a company and now they’re managing people. They’ve seen management, and now they’re ready to practice it.
Q: How would you describe our research expertise? Are there certain areas that DU is known for?
A: We’ve had an amazing diversification of our research portfolio over the last 10 years. We used to be very heavy in sciences, psychology and engineering, but over the last decade or so, we’ve expanded our funding to include almost every division. Among our areas of specialty are child and family welfare and mental health, early childhood education, biophysics and biomechanics, robotics, international forecasting, and peace building. DU also demonstrates strength in a number of other topics that regularly grab the attention of their peers and the public, including geosciences, economics and business, political science, biochemistry and law.
Q: What about our research facilities? How do those measure up?
A: We’ve been able to invest more in infrastructure recently than we have in the past 15 years. Not just in facilities, but in equipment. Over in engineering, where they just opened a phenomenal new building, we’ve been able to invest in some critical equipment that allows them now to operate one of the best facilities in the country. That creates new funding opportunities where companies will come to them and say, “We want to do the following study. I’ve heard about your facility, and I think you guys are the right people to do it.” They may not have known the professor so well, but they know the facility. So now we’re attracting not only based on the names of our researchers, but we’re attracting interest based on our facilities. Our challenge now is to do that in more places across campus. Our facilities also play a huge role in attracting faculty and students.
Q: What is your ultimate goal for DU as a research university?
A: By 2025, I would like our annual research expenditure volume to increase to a level between $30 million and $40 million during the same period of time. If we can approach or break $40 million, we will be in a very unique field of schools, especially among private universities.