NCRC, N.C. State get $1M grant
By Emily Ford
KANNAPOLIS ó As the federal government awarded the N.C. Research Campus $1 million Thursday, one official acknowledged that he’d doubted the life sciences complex in Kannapolis would come to fruition.
“A number of us thought it wouldn’t be done,” said Dr. Roger Beachy, a leader in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Beachy, director of the National Institute of Food & Agriculture, commended Research Campus founder David Murdock for envisioning the campus and convincing the state and the University of North Carolina system to partner with him. The campus includes branches of seven public universities.
“To have the vision is one thing,” Beachy said. “But to have all of you endorse it is truly remarkable.”
Beachy predicted that research done in Kannapolis, specifically in obesity and the security of the food supply, will have a global impact.
The USDA grant will create the Kannapolis Scholars Program and pay 20 of the state’s “best and brightest” graduate students to study health and nutrition at the Research Campus.
This competitive federal award proves the campus has arrived, officials said.
Dr. Steven Lommel, interim associate dean for research at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at N.C. State University, called the grant “validation through funding by a federal agency that we are doing the science that this facility was built to do.”
The Research Campus was designed to find the answers to complex biological questions by looking at the intersection of human health, nutrition and agriculture. Scientists in Kannapolis will try to understand why some people get cancer and others don’t and how to grow more nutritious food.
The USDA expects other scientific institutions to imitate the Research Campus, Beachy said.
“The integration you’ve done is a model,” he said.
The grant will expose graduate students to a transdisciplinary approach to problem-solving, said Dr. Jack Odle, a nutrition professor at N.C. State. Odle led the effort to apply for the grant and will direct the program.
A relatively new concept, transdisciplinary education suggests that many scientific questions are so complex, they cannot be answered by scientists with expertise in only one area. Rather, they require scientists with training that stretches across disciplines.
“You are training the next generation of scientists in a totally new and different way,” said Dr. Etta Saltos, a USDA official who will manage the grant.
The grant will provide Kannapolis scholars with roughly $38,000 over a 15-month period for tuition, housing and other expenses. A key element of the program is what Odle called a 10-week “rotation” each summer in Kannapolis, when students will work in a lab on campus.
Until the grant, Odle had no involvement with the Research Campus, which he calls a “10 on the Richter scale for nutritionists.”
Odle, an animal scientist who uses baby pigs as models of human infant nutrition, saw the USDA request for grant proposals that combined food science and human nutrition and said he immediately thought of the Research Campus. He won the grant with help from the other universities.
Thirty faculty members from all the universities have agreed to mentor the Kannapolis scholars. Students must design programs of study that involve mentors from at least two of the eight universities with a presence at the campus.
UNC General Administration will pay $100,000 to house the students in Kannapolis.