News and Impact

For the Division of Research & Innovation, success is a measurable goal. We are committed to seeing the University of Memphis achieve R1 Carnegie Classification by 2023; in support of this objective, we are pleased to provide measurable impacts and evidence of the world-class research conducted every day on our campus. In the spirit of transparency, we provide metrics and data that showcase our progress and the efforts of our faculty, students, and administration in achieving this goal.


UofM Research in the News


UofM Sets (Another) Research Grant Record: Faculty won a record-setting $50.2 million in research awards in the last fiscal year

University of Memphis faculty won a record-setting $50.2 million in research awards in the last fiscal year.

The new total beat last year’s record of $40.7 million, up 23.2 percent. Research award dollars have risen steadily at U of M since 2018.

Back then, about 20 percent of the school’s faculty were responsible for 75 percent of research proposals. In the 2021 fiscal year, 38 percent of the faculty brought in 75 percent of the research awards.  

In 2018, U of M began a strategy to increase research awards. The new push hopes to earn the school Carnegie R1 status, the highest rank among institutes of higher education. 

Federal grants have been the fastest-growing category in the U of M research mix. These grants have grown by 80 percent since 2019, up from $20 million to just over $35 million this year.

The top three federal contractors of U of M research last year were the National Science Foundation ($8.9 million), National Institutes of Health ($6.5 million), and the U.S. Department of Education ($5.1 million).    

“We must celebrate the hard work of our research faculty across campus,” said Jasbir Dhaliwal, U of M executive vice president for research and innovation. “Federal research awards are nationally competitive so these achievements are truly remarkable. Our efforts to build a cutting-edge research culture are starting to pay off and this bodes well for the future.”

State-funded dollars rose here by 150 percent since last year. This figure was pushed largely by $5.6 million in grants from the Tennessee Department of Transportation. However, $4.9 million of that money was invested last year in the Keep Tennessee Beautiful program housed at the U of M. It was the single largest grant given to any U of M researcher in 2021. 

To read more about the grants, check the school’s report here.


Clark Receives NSF CAREER Award

Funds research focused on synthetic strategies, and increase STEM opportunities

Dr. Kensha Clark, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry, was recently awarded a Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) starting July 1, 2022.

Clark’s award for $700,000, entitled “Exocyclic Imine Ligands for Electron Transfer,” capitalizes on redox noninnocence in transition metal complexes for the purpose of: (1) predicting electronic and magnetic behavior, (2) exploring ligand facilitated intermetallic interactions, and (3) the design of new functional molecules. This research will develop new synthetic strategies for metal ions with tailored electronic and magnetic properties to produce rationally designed multimetallic complexes that are engineered to manifest desired behavior. Development of these novel synthetic strategies will have an impact on a variety of applications, including sustainable chemical processes via artificial photosynthesis, computing, medical devices, and grid energy storage.

In addition to the proposed research, Clark’s award will provide increased opportunities for undergraduates in the STEM fields through a STEM major “boot camp” program. By introducing incoming students to exercises to help strengthen their critical thinking skills, support resources (e.g. learning centers and campus tutoring), STEM based clubs/activities on campus, and opportunities for undergraduate research in Clark’s laboratory, this program will facilitate a smooth transition into intensive, university level STEM coursework.

About the NSF CAREER program (from the NSF Website)

The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is a Foundation-wide activity that offers the National Science Foundation's most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. Activities pursued by early-career faculty should build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research. NSF encourages submission of CAREER proposals from early-career faculty at all CAREER-eligible organizations and especially encourages women, members of underrepresented minority groups, and persons with disabilities to apply.

For more information on the NSF CAREER program, please contact the Division of Research & Innovation at researchdev@memphis.edu. If you have questions or further interest in the STEM major boot camp program, please contact Clark at Kensha.Clark@memphis.edu.


Foti Awarded National Science Foundation Engineering Research Initiative

Funded project seeks to impact the wind energy industry, reduce costs

Dr. Daniel Foti, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, was recently awarded an Engineering Research Initiative (ERI) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) starting February 1.

Foti’s award for $198,766, entitled “Formation Mechanisms and Modeling of Wake Meandering in Wind Farms,” will advance fundamental insights into dominant instabilities in wind turbines, which have an adverse influence on the levelized cost of wind energy. The project proposes to (1) develop and evaluate wake meandering genesis mechanisms by quantifying the energy transfer between upwind coherent structures and wake meandering; and (2) develop wind farm models to capture disparate length scales of the wind turbine, wind farm, and atmospheric boundary layer. The project will have an impact on the wind energy industry and lead to improvements of the levelized cost of wind energy. Improvement in costs and increased energy produced by renewables such as wind are important for the reduction of greenhouse gases.

In addition to the proposed research, Foti’s award will build collaborations to (1) enhance STEM education and curricular development in partnership with the West TN STEM Hub to provide hands-on experiments with model wind turbines and fluid dynamics and (2) increase public STEM awareness and education through art and its intersection with turbulence in collaboration with Mr. David Horan in the Department of Art.

About the NSF ERI Program (from the NSF Website)

NSF investments in engineering research and education are critical building blocks for the nation's future economic growth and prosperity. Engineering breakthroughs have addressed national challenges, enriched our understanding of natural systems, fostered new technologies, fortified the nation's infrastructure, and introduced the exciting possibilities of engineering to the next generation. The Directorate for Engineering (ENG) supports the development of a diverse engineering workforce versed in the forefronts of engineering research and promotes the success of new academic investigators in their careers as researchers, educators, and innovators. The goal of the ERI program is to broaden the base of scientists and engineers in academia who dedicate their careers to advancing engineering research and education in societally important fields relevant to ENG.

For more information on the NSF ERI program, please contact the Division of Research & Innovation at  researchdev@memphis.edu. If you have questions or further interest in these STEM outreach opportunities, please contact Foti at dvfoti@memphis.edu.

Highly Cited Faculty: March Spotlight

Dr. Irena Lasiecka, Department of Mathematical Sciences

It was a good day for the University of Memphis back in 2013, when Dr. Irena Lasiecka decided to leave an endowed professorship at the University of Virginia after 26 years and become a Distinguished University Professor and Chair of Memphis’s Department of Mathematical Sciences. According to one of her academic peers, her move “jolted the professional community and instantaneously brought world-wide visibility and reputation to the … University of Memphis.”

Lasiecka is a towering figure in her field, combining innovative research, success at recruiting PhD students and post-docs as well as serving the larger mathematics community through a busy schedule of teaching and lecturing all over the world. She is also co-Editor-in-Chief of two academic journals, Applied Mathematics and Optimization and Evolution Equations and Control Theory.

Lasiecka’s area of specialization is control theory of partial differential equations, an applied mathematical discipline that requires expertise in analysis, partial differential equations, calculus of variations, Riemannian geometry and several applied areas in both engineering and life sciences.

“Partial differential equations involve a lot of pure mathematics, and that was what I was trained for very early in my studies,” she said.

Lasiecka grew up in Poland, and decided on a career in mathematics after her father convinced her that she wasn’t suited for the architecture career she first thought she would pursue. She earned both her Masters and PhD (in three years) in the early 1970s at the University of Warsaw.

It was good timing: Lasiecka earned her degrees after Sputnik in 1957 and as the global space race fueled the need for specialized mathematics. Poland was part of the Soviet Union then, and “it was a good environment for me, being a mathematician,” she said. “There was a lot of support in my country, in Poland, at the time, as well as through collaborations between Western and Eastern partners.”

Control theory of partial differential equations remains critical in advancing both aviation and aerospace as well as many other scientific disciplines; Lasiecka’s research has been supported for decades by the National Science Foundation, Division of Mathematical Sciences, as well as NASA and the Air Force, among many others. Her research has made her one of the most frequently cited mathematicians in the world. Lasiecka won the Willard R. Sparks Eminent Faculty Award at the University of Memphis in 2020, which recognizes one faculty member who has made outstanding and sustained contributions to scholarly and creative activities and is the highest distinction the university bestows on a faculty member. 

Explaining control theory, she said, “Your goal is to control something -- for example, the temperature in this room or the oscillation of an airplane wing. But the main issue is somehow to understand the phenomena. After you have a good understanding of the model, you try to predict what can happen. Finally, you have to act, and that’s exactly when the control comes, okay? You have to do something to achieve the desired target.” Or to understand why an aircraft – or spacecraft – might fail in flight. Or a bridge might suddenly fall down.

In fact, her presentation slide of the famous 1940 Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse, caused by wind turbulence, is a favorite.

“The study of fluids is related to turbulence … a similar thing is oscillations, and often you want to reduce the oscillations of a building” or a bridge, as in Tacoma, she said. “There are certain operating structures and physical laws which can be altered or impacted by applications of control. But first you need to understand why it happened. People working in experimental science can provide some prediction. Then we try to confirm or understand it better from the point of view of mathematics. That’s exactly what the goal is.”

In fact, understanding something new and being able to impact a particular problem is the part of Lasiecka’s research that she is most proud of. “The example of this bridge, I can tell you that it’s a nice part of research that you understand why it collapsed. It was confirmed by physicists and engineers with experimental science. Everything became clear.”

That moment of clarity is part of what motivates the researcher in Lasiecka, as she described why she’s so passionate about her work in control theory. “As a student, you enjoy it, you understand something. Eventually, you obsess almost, to the point of being addicted to the problem. At some point, things clarify, though it’s often difficult to say why. This moment of euphoria is a very rewarding moment, though it’s not unique to mathematics. It’s unique, in general, to researchers. It’s why they’re doing what they’re doing.”

Lasiecka’s work is collaborative, explains colleague Dr. Roger Temam, Distinguished Professor of Mathematics at Indiana University, and involves “a broad array of modern and deep mathematical techniques put at the service of applications and interdisciplinary research. The problems studied in her research are motivated by, and ultimately directed to, the engineering and applied sciences.”

Communicating across disciplines is challenging, said Lasiecka, but “can be extremely helpful. You have to somehow communicate what you discover.”

She points to a strong campus culture right now at the University of Memphis. “I enjoy very much teaching, interacting with the students. In fact, I have had over 30 PhDs. Their success very much compensates for all the difficulties and uncertainties.”

What’s next for her research?

“Some of the research I’ve been doing – like stabilizing oscillations and things related to safety – you can do the same thing with the negative side, and it becomes energy harvesting. For instance, you want oscillations to create energy like windmills. There is a lot of research that can be taken from the past and given a different spin in line with the present climate in research.”

What would most help her reach her research goals?

Her answer is unsurprising: “More time.”

Washington Leads South City Digital Inclusion Project

Phase 2 funding will increase tech access for those with the highest rate of dysconnectivity

Dr. Gregory Washington, director of the Center for Advancement and Youth Development (CAYD) and professor in the School of Social Work, has been awarded a research contract by the Women's Foundation for a Greater Memphis. Washington will be the lead principal Investigator.  

The award funds Phase 2 of the Digital Inclusion in South City project, which seeks to provide financial, technological, and educational support to ensure students' achievement isn't limited by their technology access. The South City Digital Inclusion (SCDI) project, as a solution, is focused on youth and their families in communities who suffer from the highest rates of internet dysconnectivity. At its core SCDI about getting more households online with the right skills for success.  

The $250,757 award is for one year and the project aims to reach 500 homes in South City and the surrounding 38126 and 38106 zip codes.

For more information on this award or the project, contact Washington at gwshngt1@memphis.edu.


ASPIRED Project Milestones

Growing gender equality

Since the launch of this project, we took a moment to reflect on the role ASPIRED has played on campus with its implemented programs. We are thrilled to celebrate the milestones with you. Through ASPIRED project’s UM-Intersect, UM-Connect, and UM-Integrate programs, the University of Memphis has adapted gender equity initiatives in recruitment, hiring, retention, and advancement for STEM women faculty. The principal investigator of this project is Dr. Esra Ozdenerol, professor of Earth Sciences and directors of the GIS Certificate Program as well as SAGE (Spatial Analysis and Geographic Education) Laboratory.

ASPIRED UM Intersect
STRIDE- Join us for the Inaugural Workshop for STRIDE (Strategies and Tactics for Recruiting to Improve Diversity and Excellence) on Wednesday, April 6, 2022. STRIDE is an hour long, peer-to-peer interactive workshop intended for search committees to learn about best practices to ensure a fair and equitable search process. Our committee consists of six members (Dr. Kristoffer Berlin, Dr. Joel Bumgardner, Dr. Amy Curry, Dr. Chrysanthe Preza, Dr. Firouzeh Sabri, and Dr. Laura Taylor). To learn more about STRIDE workshops and available times, visit our STRIDE Workshop webpage.

ASPIRED UM Intersect
WELCOME packet- The welcome packet provides new employees with resources such as getting started on campus, development opportunities, childcare, navigating Memphis, and more.

ASPIRED UM Intersect- Department Climate Improvement Grants
In Spring 2021, the ASPIRED team conducted department climate surveys and introduced the Department Climate Improvement Grant to all STEM departments to implement climate improvement projects. Examples of activities proposed by the departments include, but are not limited to, symposia or series, search committee training, bias awareness and reduction training, capacity building, policy review and reform, and recruitment and pipeline efforts. These interventions will focus on helping to create climates that are inclusive and responsive to the needs of women and URM faculty—potentially reducing feelings of isolation and reducing hostility and discrimination based on gender and/or minority status.

ASPIRED’s Tiger-Lilly Collective (TLC) theatre group will join the CAS Chair/Director meeting in May to perform interactive sketches on implicit bias. TLC performances will educate audiences by catching them off-guard and illustrating in real time and using common scenarios how gender and implicit biases play out in their own lives. TLC actors are UofM students with Dr. Holly Derr, head of Directing Program, directing the interactive sketches.

Mentoring- The mentoring program welcomed Drs. Ozdenerol, Parrill-Baker, and Haut Donahue as mentors and Drs. Antipova, Jennings, Labarre-Powell, and Pleshkan as mentees. The members are participating in a 4-week, 4-module self-paced training where mentors and mentees will develop competencies to engage in an effective, culturally responsive mentoring relationship while improving STEM self-efficacy and identity. These training modules are available through Canvas to mentors and mentees who are accepted into the program and consist of collaborative discussions and problem-based scenarios to socialize both the mentors and mentees to the peer mentoring process. 

STEM Luncheons-

Our STEM luncheons were a great success. Our first STEM luncheon, which served as the kickoff for the UM-Connect Mentoring program, was on November 5, 2021, and invited Dr. Melissa McDaniels to speak about STEM mentoring. Since then, we have hosted Dr. Lisa Wolf-Wendel who spoke on Work-Life-Family Balance, Dr. Robin Selinger who spoke on Strategies for Success in Academic STEM careers, and Dr. Terri Reed who spoke on Diversity, Equity, and Implicit Bias. The STEM luncheons provided mentors and mentees participating in the UM-Connect Mentoring program the opportunity to connect with one another and develop professionally. Our speakers are broadcast through zoom to a live and virtual audience. We would like the UofM STEM community to attend our upcoming luncheon on March 22, at 12 PM with Dr. Jill Sible who will speak on promoting excellence and inclusion in the STEM classroom.

Integrate Grants-UM Integrate has awarded integrate grants that support faculty in research, professional development, and/or work-family integration. The grants were awarded to Drs. Kensha Clark from the Chemistry Department, Misty Freeman from Mathematical Science, Chrysanthe Preza from Electrical and Computer Engineering, Maryam Salehi from Civil Engineering, and Kan Yang from Computer Science.
Dual Career Taskforce-The Dual career task force was formed and is developing a dual career policy for the University of Memphis. The task force is a collective group of members from faculty, leadership, administration, HR, and the Provost’s office.

Learn more about what is happening by visiting the ASPIRED website, or follow us on LinkedIn. For further questions regarding this initiative, contact Ozdenerol, at eozdenrl@memphis.edu, or the program coordinator, Mekensie Ivy, at mmivy@memphis.edu.


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