The Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment launched the Preparing your Research for an Extramural Proposal (PREP) Program this fall with a call for applications. The program helps faculty develop the skills and experience needed to lead projects regarding human, societal, and environmental research.

Seven faculty members from four colleges and six departments were selected to participate in the program and are currently receiving guidance and mentoring. In addition, they received up to $7,500 to support their research and grant-writing efforts.

“The research of this first cohort of the PREP program relies on creative approaches to address a broad array of topics that all have potential to advance their scientific disciplines and benefit the lives of individuals and communities,” said Karen Roberto, University Distinguished Professor and the institute's executive director. “We are pleased to be able to help the faculty develop their ideas and take the lead in investigations as they navigate their way through the intricacies of extramural funding.”

The two-semester, structured program consists of didactic and interactive sessions. Activities in the first semester include monthly sessions to review funders’ requirements and to develop a concept paper to share with program officers. Activities in the second semester consist of writing, reviewing, critiquing, and discussing cohort member proposals. Throughout the program, the institute's leadership team provides individually tailored mentorship to program recipients.

The recipients of the 2022-23 Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment (ISCE) Social Science PREP Program are preparing to seek funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support their research through the following research projects:

Elinor Benami, assistant professor of agricultural and applied economics in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, compares the economic benefits of two indices used to determine compensation for farmers in times of drought to see which is more economically advantageous for the farmer and the government.

Heather Davis, an assistant professor of psychology in the College of Science, is examining feelings of shame following binge eating among women with binge spectrum eating disorders using a smartphone application to assess participants’ in-the-moment shame in their natural environment.

Junghwan Kim, assistant professor of geography in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, is creating a new fine-scale measure for walkability in small-size cities that utilizes artificial intelligence and street-view imagery to examine disparities in walkability related to commuters’ sociodemographic characteristics.

Karin Kitchens, assistant professor of political science in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, is using data from the Virginia Longitudinal Data System to examine the variations of juvenile court sentencing and how defendant outcomes are affected.

Michael Sorice, associate professor of forest resources and environmental conservation in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, is focusing on ecosystem stewardship and its practices across cultural domains of agricultural stakeholders.

Hannah M. Sunderman, assistant professor of agricultural, leadership, and community education in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, will construct a leadership education curriculum to foster Leadership Identity Development in connection with other social identities and the meaning-making process. 

Clara H. Suong, assistant professor of political science in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, is examining activity on Twitter and Facebook of the U.S. State Department and its affiliated entities as well as foreign diplomatic entities from 2021-22 to identify patterns and causes and effects of digital communications.

“As a first-year faculty member, I am seeking further development and refinement of my grant writing skills, which will facilitate my preparation of an NIH R34 proposal,” said Davis. “I also appreciate the opportunity to connect with other junior faculty preparing grant proposals.”

ISCE is one of seven research institutes at Virginia Tech that are integral to supporting the university’s research enterprise. By providing technical support, mentoring, and seed funding for preliminary data, ISCE invests in researchers conducting small-scale projects with the potential to become large-scale studies that earn external funding that addresses critical individual and social concerns impacting the lives of people and places locally, nationally, or across the globe.

“The program will give me invaluable growth opportunities through attending interactive sessions and getting feedback from peers,” said Kim. “The funding from the program facilitates my preliminary research activities, which will strengthen my NSF proposal.”

By Felicia Spencer