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National Science Foundation, Where Discoveries BeginGrant funding for research at the community college level can be scarce, but a National Science Foundation grant intended to match student researchers with innovative businesses may help to reverse that trend. And the key may be as simple as knowing who to ask.

A recent story in the Community College Times, “A formula for success for student researchers,” by Madeline Patton (July 9, 2010), piqued my curiosity. Patton's story begins:


“For the past two years, Mark Gianino and six other students in the pharmaceutical and laboratory science program at Southwestern College (SWC) in California have been exploring alternative ways of manufacturing sunflower-seed-size pH sensors used to diagnose acid reflux.

'I love the freedom we get to explore any area we choose,' said Mark Gianino, a recipient of an American Chemical Society scholarship.

The medical device company for whom the students are conducting the research are also happy.”

Since I thought there traditionally has been little—if any—funding for community college students to do research, finding this story was a pleasant surprise.

It seems that the National Science Foundation (NSF), through partnerships formed under its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant, can make it happen for community colleges. In fact, community colleges may have an advantage over universities and other institutions competing for the same funding.

For example, in the case of Southwestern College—as relayed in Patton's story—community college students were recognized as more "hands-on, down-to-earth" researchers than students at some other institutions.

And community colleges are eligible for equipment funding from the NSF through an Instrumentation and Laboratory Improvement grant. This grant was pursued at Southwestern College in order to purchase research equipment

What may be the most encouraging aspect of Patton's story is that it hints at a roadmap that other colleges might follow to pursue research funding in this area. Since community colleges are not well known for scientific research, the onus is on the college to identify and approach businesses that might benefit from partnerships with minority-serving community colleges like Southwestern College.

Those businesses are identified as recipients of the NSF Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II grants. Such businesses are eligible for supplemental NSF grants when they form partnerships with student researchers. And student researchers benefit from research funding, and professional and travel opportunities.

It will take some sleuthing to identify the specific businesses that might benefit and to which college they might best be matched, but it seems that they would be open to partnerships that bring them supplemental funding. It may truly be a case of simply needing to know who to ask.

Begin with the Opportunities for Small Business Phase II Partnerships with an Engineering Research Center (ERC) page at the NSF website.<>