On June 9, the four winning teams of the UNC and NC A&T Looking Forward pilot research program were announced and recognized for their research into the complex issues facing North Carolinians.
The initiative was co-created by Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and NC 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 needed to build on the complementary and collaborative partnerships of each institution,” said UNC Acting Vice Chancellor for Research Penny Gordon-Larsen. .
Gordon-Larsen added that the two universities have worked together to define program priorities so that they reflect the intent of the two chancellors.
The Looking Forward program invited proposals in four distinct research areas: data science and society, environment and environmental justice, health disparities, and cancer and cancer research.
Initially, the call for proposals included only 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 in these four priority areas received funding of $200,000 over two years. The initiative is funded by each university’s office of chancellors and 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.
Research finalists were asked to create final proposals for their research plans and four teams were selected. The research funding winning teams were recognized last Thursday at a ceremony at the Alumni-Foundation Event Center on the NC A&T campus.
“The teams are already off to such a great start and they’re already working so well together, so we’re very excited about the potential work they have ahead of them,” Gordon-Larsen said.
Dr. Russell Broaddus, chair of UNC’s Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, leads the cancer and cancer research team.
“The overall goal is to join groups of very different universities and try to see if there’s synergy to solve a really particular research problem,” Broaddus said.
Broaddus has teamed up with Emmanuel Obeng-Gyasi, an assistant professor in the Department of Built Environment at NC A&T, to address the worrying rise in endometrial cancer, particularly among black women.
Chris Bizon, director of analytics and data science at UNC Renaissance Computing Institute, and Leila Hashemi-Beni, professor at NC A&T Built Environment, are the team leaders of the winning team in the Data category Science and Society.
With program funds, the research team will create an emergency response data modeling tool that will be useful inside and outside of North Carolina. The team will also use 34 complex data streams from places like weather, humans and built infrastructure.
In the Health Disparities category, Dr. Becky White and Sharon Parker have partnered to lead the research team on COVID-19 testing and general vaccination rates 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 NC A&T. White explained that funding for the program will allow the team to offer free COVID-19 testing to inmates, as well as more information about vaccinations.
“Almost all of the funding will be spent on a stable nurse whose goal is really to try to better understand the attitudes and beliefs around testing and vaccination among people incarcerated at Wake County Jail,” White said.
Rick Luettich, senior fellow at the Coastal Resilience Center and director of the UNC Center for Natural Hazard Resilience and the UNC Institute of Marine Science, and Liping Liu, associate professor of mathematics at NC A&T, are the heads of team of the winner research team in 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.
NC A&T is the nation’s largest HBCU, and Luettich said he’s grateful to take these collaborations with the school’s faculty to the next level.
“They’re incredibly talented, very interested, and I think often they have to focus so much on the lessons they have to teach, that they don’t have the opportunity to research topics and so if anything , I think they really appreciate the chance to focus on some research,” Luettich said.
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