Special Seed Funding Opportunity

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Dear Colleagues

Over the last nine months, the federal government has announced plans for a set of significant investments to enhance research in priority areas including infrastructure, pandemic preparedness, sustainability, AI, quantum computing, advanced manufacturing and others. Many of the proposals for increased funding are motivated by a desire to enhance American economic competitiveness through investments in basic and applied research, commercialization and STEM workforce development. Plans to increase funding for agencies like the National Science Foundation, the Institute for Education Sciences and the National Institutes of Health include significant updates to, and extensions of, their missions. Legislation will continue to move through Congress, allocating funds and charging the agencies with development of specific offices and programs. Yet the public purposes to be served have been made clear. As such, the opportunities that this legislation will likely create are already substantially defined. [See references below.]

With the right support, Lehigh faculty can contribute to shaping these federal research investments and can compete effectively for these new sources of research funding as they are specified. The entire university has a lot to gain if our faculty are visible in articulating the case for new research priorities and - especially considering the breadth of disciplines that should be engaged - in expanding our research portfolio. Therefore we are announcing a program of seed funding and support to enhance the activities of Lehigh faculty in areas in which research investments - especially at the federal level - are most likely to grow.

This program falls under the umbrella of the ongoing Research Futures program, through which we continue to invite faculty teams to pursue opportunities and develop new capabilities. The application process for these special opportunity grants has been modified to fit the fact that the opportunity has already been substantially defined by legislation, the underlying imperatives, and the likely areas of federal investment. Approximately $1M in total funding will be available this year. Two sizes of proposals will be considered: large scale proposals (maximum of $500,000/year) and smaller scale proposals (maximum of $100,000/year). The scale of the proposal should be related to the scale of the project and the potential federal funding opportunity. Large scale proposals will likely involve larger teams of Lehigh faculty.

The application and review process is targeted at identifying groups of faculty who can (with some university support) best compete for the funding that will arise from newly identified federal priorities. Therefore, the initial application should consist of:

Page 1: Program Description: A brief description of the area of the project to be proposed with a focus on the problem to be solved, need to be met, or questions to be addressed. This should be a concise description of what you will achieve and why it should matter to the agencies charged with implementing the new and expanded priorities. This section should include a description of prior work demonstrating capability to succeed in the described project. (500 word limit)

Page 2: Match with Federal Priorities: A paragraph making the case that the topic area of the project is an area of rising priority for one or more federal agencies. Supporting evidence will most likely consist of statements made by federal officials, strategic plan documents or the text of bills passed or being considered by congress. (250 word limit)

Page 3: Proposed Non-research Activities: A description of activities that the group plans to undertake to better align the proposed work with federal and stakeholder priorities, to inform how those priorities are expressed in agency programs, and to make Lehigh’s capabilities and expertise more visible. This may include activities such as workshops, meetings with agency officials, white papers or position papers to be written etc. Also include any steps already taken, such as contacts with program officers, white papers drafted etc. (350 word limit)

Page 4: Budget and Timeline: A budget sketch with justification and timeline of activities extending over no more than two years. The budget should include a description of funds to be spent on activities including preliminary research and pilot projects, and also on developing the research team, grant writing or project management support, and aligning with funders and other stakeholders. Flexibility will be afforded as efforts proceed, but applicants must have a clear initial plan.

Page 5: Targets for Future Support: A list of the most likely mechanisms for federal support that the group will pursue during and after the seed funding period and the planned timing of submissions. What are the specific goals for future support for this project? Include funding agencies, programs and (if known) funding mechanisms and proposal deadlines that may be pursued. For example, do the applicants plan to target new NSF technology programs, or a DOE center for clean energy innovation? We understand that this will be somewhat speculative. But we look to the authors to understand what the agencies are being asked to do and identify work that will be essential. Discussions with program officers may be good sources of information on potential mechanisms. (250 word limit)

Page 6: Letter(s) of support: A brief letter of support from the Dean(s) of college(s) of the faculty members who are leading the project.

Page 7+: Team and Roles: Evidence that the team that has been assembled can make a strong case for expertise in the area being considered for federal investment. Provide a brief (<250 word) narrative describing the strengths of the team, supported by (links to) recent biosketches of no more than four key personnel (from Lehigh or not). For large scale projects, teams involving university or industrial partners are likely to be most competitive. Funds awarded under this program must be spent at Lehigh. Subcontracts will not be allowed except in special circumstances with prior approval. Travel to Lehigh for team members for collaboration may be requested.

Word limits are maximums and brevity is appreciated. References should be in a separate section and will not be counted against the word or page limits.

These proposals should be submitted by November 22nd and will be reviewed quickly thereafter. Teams submitting proposals that are most favorably reviewed will be invited to present their proposal and answer questions from a review panel. This process is designed to allow reviewers to gain clarity on the plan of the research as well as the alignment with emerging priorities.

Note that many of the areas under discussion for increased federal support are ones that would benefit from interdisciplinary approaches. For example:

  • Federal support for new infrastructure is likely to target green and resilient infrastructure that promotes economic opportunity and equity. Research on such topics will likely require involvement of a wide range of disciplines.
  • Support for advanced manufacturing research may involve development of new manufacturing methods, new materials, new approaches to ensuring the supply chain and as well as improvements in workforce training.
  • Support for research on pandemic preparedness may involve new technologies for vaccine development or disease monitoring as well as approaches to overcoming resistance to vaccines or public health measures. Such projects may also benefit from research on how to reach and equitably serve particular populations.

Review Process and Criteria

The team reviewing these proposals will include the Provost and the Vice President for Research as well as representatives from Lehigh’s office of Government relations. Additional subject-matter experts will be engaged as needed.

The ultimate goal of this program is increasing external research support for Lehigh faculty-led projects. Seed grants will be made to teams that have made the strongest case that this funding will increase their likelihood of securing additional external research support.

We will be holding an information session on this program for all interested faculty on October 8th from 1-2PM and we will respond to questions e-mailed to provost@lehigh.edu - please include “SEED funding inquiry” in the subject line.

Full applications should be submitted by November 22nd as a single PDF to provost@lehigh.edu with "SEED funding application" in the subject line.

Nathan Urban
Alan Snyder