Three interdisciplinary projects receive seed funding from UCSC Foundation

Three interdisciplinary projects have received seed funding from the UC Santa Cruz Foundation following a campuswide call for proposals issued by the Office of Research.

Each project will receive $12,000 during the 2020–21 academic year as part of an experimental, one-year pilot project designed to build relationships between faculty and trustee “sponsors” of each project. The larger goal is strengthening the faculty role in campus fundraising, and putting faculty-initiated research projects at the center of campus philanthropy, said Susan Gillman, professor of literature and chair of the Academic Senate Committee on Development and Fundraising (CDF).

After applying for a $36,000 Foundation Board Opportunity Fund (BOF) grant, the CDF reviewed 17 proposals, identified three, and presented them the BOF committee at its meeting last month. On June 6, the foundation approved the grant proposal.

The three projects are:

  • Center for Monster Studies: Michael Chemers, professor of dramatic literature, says a Center for Monster Studies will provide a vehicle for the interdisciplinary study of how societies define and decide how to frame and punish difference and deviance. In their application for funding, Chemers and co-principal investigators Elizabeth Swensen, assistant professor of art and design in Games and Playable Media, and Noah Wardrip-Fruin, professor of computational media, wrote: “The benefits of taking monsters seriously have been long acknowledged by anthropologists and psychologists, but we locate our critique firmly within cultural studies insofar as its central emphasis is an inquiry into cultural practices, seeking to unlock the mechanics of identity construction.”
  • Community-Engaged Scholarship at UCSC: The seed funding for this project, which is led by Rebecca London, assistant professor of sociology, will be used to help establish a Campus + Community Center on campus. The center will serve as a central hub of resources for scholars and organizations that participate in community-engaged scholarship. Based in the Institute for Social Transformation, the center will identify best practices for community-engaged scholarship, including establishing a set of values and support systems for faculty and community partners that will foster productive collaborations. Seed funds will specifically support the hiring this summer of graduate and undergraduate students to help write grants. The larger aim, London says, is to further “embed community-engaged research into the UCSC fabric.”
  • Building a Culture for Health: Politics Professor Matt Sparke is leading an interdisciplinary team that will investigate health inequalities with a focus on the health of underserved LatinX migrant communities. The team’s goal is two-fold: to research the health needs of vulnerable migrant and homeless populations, and to develop a pipeline for health-worker training from high schools through community colleges and UCSC. Sparke says “This larger vision of a health worker education pipeline will build on community connections that UCSC researchers have already been fostering in our local Santa Cruz and Pajaro Valley communities,” said Sparke. Seed funding will cover the cost of workshops that will bring together community-based organizations and community health workers, fostering relationships and collaboration that will lay the foundation for subsequent applications for significant funding.

Gillman, called the seed funding effort “the start of a new direct faculty-Foundation partnership.”

“This is a four-way collaboration among the Senate Committee on Development and Fundraising, University Relations, the Office of Research, and the UCSC Foundation and trustees via the Board Opportunity Fund,” said Gillman. “Unprecedented is an overused word these days, but it describes our experiment perfectly.”

In close collaboration with the Office of Research, the CDF reviewed the 17 proposals from the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. “From that group, CDF picked the three proposals that we judged excellent by our metrics and that we believe speak to the values of the Board Opportunity Fund,” said Gillman. Each is interdisciplinary and includes student participation, typically graduate students who will be involved in research and grant-writing, she said.

Together the CDF and BOF are in the process of pairing trustee sponsors with each of the three projects. “Individual trustee involvement is important to create a longer-term relationship and greater dividends for both applicants and trustees,” said Gillman. “This will lay fertile ground for a potential continuing relationship between the faculty and the board, one of the main aims in launching this new partnership.”

The seed funding will be released by June 26.