This fall, the Institute for Society, Culture and Environment (ISCE) welcomed its second cohort of awardees for its Preparing your Research for an Extramural Proposal (PREP) Program.

“The research of the PREP faculty focuses on contemporary issues and challenges facing individuals and the communities in which they live,” said Karen Roberto, the institute's executive director. “Through mentoring, seed funding, and collaborative assistance, the program provides a supportive environment for developing the proposal-writing skills of less experienced faculty wanting to pursue external funding.”

Designed for Virginia Tech faculty pursuing research in social science disciplines, the program supports faculty who have strong potential for success in seeking external funding but relatively new to the proposal writing process or those whose past proposals did not receive funding. The program funds up to six awards of up to $10,000 every year.

Members of this year’s cohort represent four academic departments across three colleges and two centers. They will spend the two-semester program engaged in instructional and interactive sessions on navigating the grant process and crafting a competitive grant proposal for a federal or state agency or private foundation.

PREP recipient Ruichuan Zhang, assistant professor in the Myers-Lawson School of Construction in the College of Engineering, was awarded for his project, “Assessing Adaptive Buildings for Inclusive Disaster Response.”

"My research focuses on how people interact with and are affected by intelligent and sustainable built environments and involves a multidisciplinary approach, combining expertise from built environment science, civil and construction engineering, data science and machine learning, and social science,” Zhang said. “Ultimately, I hope that PREP will help me successfully prepare and submit strong extramural proposals to advance my research at the intersection of intelligent and sustainable built environment, data analytics and machine learning, and human-centered approaches."

PREP activities during the fall semester consist of one session per month devoted to developing a compelling concept paper that will communicate the introductory sections of a proposal. During the spring semester, longer group sessions will be hosted monthly, consisting of writing, reviewing, critiquing, and discussing cohort member proposals. A finished proposal will be submitted to an external funding agency by each participant upon the program’s completion.

“I am very excited to be a part of the ISCE PREP program,” said Rachelle Kuehl, a research scientist for the Center for Rural Education. “In addition to getting to know a group of Virginia Tech colleagues who approach social science research from varying disciplines, I hope to gain new skills I can use to apply for large-scale grants throughout my career.”

Along with the workshops and funding, institute leadership also provides individually tailored mentorship throughout the program with a minimum of one monthly meeting.

“I look forward to learning from our experienced mentors about how to communicate project ideas succinctly and persuasively as well as how to build research teams and develop effective, realistic budgets and timelines,” Kuehl said.

The 2023-24 PREP recipients and their associated topics are the following:

  • Sweta Baniya, assistant professor of English in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, “Compounding Crisis and Communication: Strengthening Transnational Disaster Response and Community Resilience via Social Justice Oriented Crisis Communication”
  • Rachel Cheng, assistant professor of food science and technology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, “Case-control Study of Foodborne and Non-Foodborne Acquired Salmonellosis in Children”
  • Shaddi Hasan, assistant professor of computer science in the College of Engineering, “Advancing Digital Equity through Scalable Techniques for Improving Broadband Data Collection and Integrity”
  • Rachelle Kuehl, research scientist for the Center for Rural Education, “Teaching Race in Rural Places: Investigating Contextualized Challenges, Successes, and Solutions in Contentious Times”
  • Jessica Rich, research assistant professor for the Center for Coastal Studies, “A Comparative Study of Environmental Decision-Making in Coastal Virginia and Greenland”
  • Ruichuan Zhang, assistant professor for the Myers-Lawson School of Construction in the College of Engineering, “Assessing Adaptive Buildings for Inclusive Disaster Response”

For more information about the PREP program visit the ISCE website.

Written by Cassidy Schultz