Tech Transfer eNews Blog

Princeton builds alliance with UNCF and HBCUs to expand research and innovation


By David Schwartz
Published: May 11th, 2022

Princeton University is partnering with UNCF (United Negro College Fund) and five historically Black colleges and universities to launch a groundbreaking program to create research collaborations between Princeton faculty and their peers at HBCUs. 

In the initial phase, faculty researchers from Princeton, Howard University, Jackson State University, Prairie View A&M University, Spelman College, and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore will co-lead research projects. The projects will be funded by Princeton its new Princeton Alliance for Collaborative Research and Innovation (PACRI). The goal is to fund multiple collaborative projects every year between Princeton and each partnering institution.

“Collaboration is a powerful force for new ideas and creativity in research and scholarship,” said Princeton’s Dean for Research Pablo Debenedetti. “By creating a mechanism that encourages faculty from Princeton and HBCUs to work together, we hope to spark the creation of new teams of researchers that bring together people with different perspectives, experiences and expertise. The potential to generate new knowledge and discoveries across a wide range of disciplines is very exciting,” Debenedetti said. 

Vice Dean for Innovation Rodney Priestley, a co-leader of the PACRI program, said the program echoes the school’s openness to a broad range of collaborations. “We highly value partnerships at Princeton, whether they are with other academic institutions, industry, governments, or nonprofits. We believe that these collaborations enable Princeton researchers and innovators to achieve things that we cannot achieve alone.” 

The new PACRI program, he said, is similar to other Princeton funding programs that foster collaborations unlikely to happen without the support. According to Priestley, these “innovation fund” programs are popular with Princeton faculty because they enable new partnerships and scholarship. “In some cases, researchers have been able to establish foundational work that could then attract greater funding. I am looking forward to seeing what will come out of these teams.”

Tod Hamilton, associate professor of sociology and acting director of the Office of Population Research, is co-leading PACRI with Priestley. He notes that research collaborations, particularly those that cross disciplinary and institutional boundaries, are critical to generating cutting-edge insights needed to advance the frontier of knowledge within the academy and broader society. “We all benefit from initiatives that facilitate the exchange of ideas and remove barriers to innovation,” Hamilton said. 

Princeton worked with UNCF to help get the program off the ground, enlisting the organization in identifying partners for the alliance’s inaugural year.

“UNCF is excited to support this groundbreaking initiative connecting Princeton University faculty and research faculty at HBCUs,” said Chad Womack, PhD, senior director of National STEM Programs and Initiatives at UNCF. “PACRI will provide much-needed funding to help establish sustainable research collaborations between Princeton and HBCU faculty across a variety of HBCU campuses.

Priestley says he’s excited about the potential for real benefits for all partners in the alliance. “I hope the alliance will lead to faculty from Princeton and partners working together to create new intellectual property and spinouts. These could be powerful pathways for PACRI-fueled collaborations to have a positive impact on society,” he said.

Jackson State Vice President for Research and Economic Development Joseph A. Whittaker, PhD, shares Priestley’s enthusiasm. “I envision that the PACRI collaborations will be uniquely situated not only to solve challenging research problems but also to drive novel and emergent methodologies, as well as technologies and intellectual property that will serve as foundations on which to build and advance start-ups and inclusive economic development,” he stated.  

The program will extend beyond STEM disciplines into the humanities and social sciences. This broad program scope is well suited to the research interests of faculty at a number of the partner institutions, including Spelman and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

PACRI is just the latest of several Princeton initiatives aimed at expanding a more inclusive research, innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem. While this first phase of the Alliance focuses on HBCUs, the university plans to expand the effort to other Minority-Serving Institutions and women’s colleges. 

Source: Princeton University

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