USF is a Research I university, and it’s looking for a Research win

A new program that will reward universities for excelling in research and creating area jobs could mean big bucks for USF.

The program, signed into law in May, allocated $30 million in this year’s state budget to be distributed to Florida universities that can convince the state Legislature that its on-campus research will provide a boon to Florida’s economy.

The state is looking to establish what it calls “centers of excellence” at one or more universities. Universities outside the State University System can also vie for the awards, which USF officials believe will be distributed in two $15-million or three $10-million increments.

The Board of Trustees Workgroup on Research and Scholarship met Tuesday morning to discuss the steps USF must take to compete for the award. Officials must submit a detailed proposal to the state by Dec. 1 in order to be eligible.

In the proposal, USF will focus on types of on-campus research that could have the biggest impact economically on the Bay area.

In recent months, a committee designed to choose the portion of USF research on which the proposal would focus, selected biomedical technology, specifically nano-biology.

“When putting in a proposal like this, you go with what your strength is,” Provost S. David Stamps said at the meeting. “And this is where our strength lies.”

If USF receives one of the awards, however, other researchers on campus would also reap the benefits of the cash award, which would be divvied out on a “get-it-and-spend-it” basis, said Carl Carlucci, executive vice president and chief financial officer.

In order to create jobs, the university will partner with area hospitals and nearly 400 technology firms in the area, Carlucci said.

“We’ll provide the scientists, they would provide the people who work in the firms and maintain the equipment,” Carlucci said.

The award falls under Gov. Jeb Bush’s Technology Development Act and will be governed by the Emerging Technology Commission.

After USF submits the proposal, it will be evaluated by ETC, half of whose members are appointed by Bush. The other half is appointed by the Speaker of the House and the Senate President. The proposal then moves to Florida Board of Education, which ultimately chooses the winner or winners.

But USF has some tough competition in its way. Carlucci said the University of Florida will also submit a proposal that focuses on its nano-biology program. Florida State, Florida International and the University of Miami are also expected to vie for the award.

“UF has pretty much said they’re going to win,” Carlucci said. “Apparently, they are confusing their performance on the football field with their performance in research.”

He added that research at UF and FSU, while widely respected, also was the benefactor of some good luck. He said both programs have ridden the wave of success created by two patents that brought fame to both schools: the popular sports drink Gatorade for UF and the cancer-fighting drug Taxol for FSU.

All joking aside, though, these two schools are proof, Carlucci said, that if given the right amount of capital, USF, too, could produce a patent that could rocket the school into the spotlight and pump even more money into research.

A report from the Chronicle of Higher Education in July measured the performance of researched-based programs based on the efficiency in which they produced inventions.

Brigham Young University ranked first on the list, producing 4 1/2 inventions per $1 million spent on research. The University of Akron, East Carolina University, the California Institute of Technology and Ohio University rounded out the top five. USF, Carlucci said, ranked 64th.