Suresh sprouts ProSeed initiative

Last Wedensday, University President Subra Suresh announced the creation of the ProSEED program by email.

The email described ProSEED as “intended to create new mechanisms for connecting and coordinating other seed-funding programs available at CMU, so that our community can be better positioned to apply for sustained support for their ideas.”

Seed funding is the money provided by an organization to a group working to develop a novel product for future use or commercialization, to help with product development, prototyping, testing, and marketing.
ProSEED addresses one of President Suresh’s five theme areas that he identified earlier in the academic year as part of his listening tour of campus.

ProSEED responds to Suresh’s identified need to increase the seed funding for new ideas, which according to Carnegie Mellon’s leadership webpage, “is especially critical in light of the budget uncertainties and attendant delays associated with government funding.”

The webpage states from Oct. 1, “[Suresh] will soon be announcing new models and mechanisms for seed funding that will leverage resources from a number of on-campus stakeholders and external sources,” the culmination of which is the ProSEED program.

Vice Provost for Education Amy Burkert characterized ProSEED as an umbrella containing seed funding programs such as the Simon Initiative Seed Grants and Crosswalk, and others in the future.
Burkert said that ProSEED is “meant to seed new ideas, new initiatives, to bring together various parts of campus, various opportunities to really be synergistic.”

The Simon Initiative is providing seed money for “faculty to develop technology-enhanced courses or course modules, or other research projects that use data-driven learning technologies,” according to President Suresh’s email.

The administration of this program will be conducted through The Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation. Burkert clarified that the program has two key focuses of learning and application-based developments and more research-oriented ones.

According to the email, Crosswalk will provide funding to “empower ideas for new connections and collaborations across campus, on any number of dimensions.” Crosswalk money will be used to improve the student and campus experience and will focus on the domains of student research, quality of life, courses, student competitions, community service learning, and symposiums and strategic workshops.

Assistant Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Stephanie Wallach said, “what President Suresh has discovered is there’s a tremendous amount of interest from undergraduates in terms of more opportunities for interdisciplinary research. More ways to find different avenues into the same question.”

Crosswalk will be run parallel to the existing Small Undergraduate Research Grant (SURG) program offered by the Undergraduate Research Office (URO), where students engaging in interdisciplinary research can fill out an extra application portion to apply for Crosswalk.

In this way, the URO hopes, as Wallach described, “to strengthen an already robust program and highlight even more directly the interdisciplinary nature of the work we do here, and also provide some additional resources to students who find that the funding may not be adequate.”

Crosswalk will also be integrated into the Meeting of the Minds presentations currently linked with the SURG program.

“There will be a lot of interplay between these programs as they develop,” Burkert explained.

There are also plans for the ProSEED webpage to become a resource.

“If you look at the ProSEED website, there are also other types of seed funding available across campus,” Burkert explained, saying that there are plans to turn the website into a “collecting site” for seed opportunities across campus with a denotation if the opportunity is for students, alumni, or faculty.

Justine Cassell, one of the co-directors of The Simon Initiative, spoke about the role that the initiative will play in ProSEED.

“Our goal is to ensure that technology is used in places where it can improve learning gains,” Cassell described, noting The Simon Initiative’s funding for both the use of existing technology in the classroom, but also for researching technology for classroom use. “This can be technology of any kind,” she added.

Cassell spoke of the necessity of using technology in classrooms in a way that best promotes learning, and not just integrating technology because it is available.

“This is a way of helping faculty and students focus on how technology can best help students to learn,” Cassell said.

In regard to ProSEED’s overall success, Burkert said, “I think a measure of success will be seeing whether this is effective in cross-fertilization.”

Wallach added, “I also think that you would have a much broader base of students who would have this opportunity [for undergraduate research] before they graduate. It would be a more natural and accepted way that you engage when you’re an undergraduate here.”