Funding Faculty Research
Professor emerita gives $1.5M to support collaborative science research
Professor Emerita Joan Sieber spent her life sticking to a budget and investing what she earned. Now, she’s investing in the future of Cal State East Bay faculty and students.
In late March, Sieber and the university announced her $1.5 million planned gift dedicated to creating an endowment for the College of Science Collaborative Research Program which provides small grants for those faculty — both new and tenured — who are working on projects involving students and regional industry experts.
“If you love teaching and you really want to help your students learn how to do applied research to better prepare them for careers at a local science or technology firm, how do you do it? Collaborative research,” she said answering her own question.
Sieber added that when she started funding the program in fall 2017, so many high-quality proposals were brought forward by faculty, that she knew even then that the program would eventually require additional funding.
Filling a Funding Gap
As a former program director at the National Science Foundation, Sieber realized that only 12 percent of proposals (which sometimes take months to write) are funded and many times, only after scientists have shaped their applications to what an agency wants, instead of what the project requires.
“This means that young, new faculty coming in fresh out of graduate school don’t have funding, and it also means that faculty who love to teach and don’t want to be administering huge grants — which may be a whole lot of work and a distraction from the science — don’t have a ready source of money,” she said.
According to Sieber, the new grant program will allow the College of Science to pay a stipend to student researchers, purchase materials and, if needed, travel to a professional meeting or conference. Those faculty members who already have received big grants are asked not to apply, but any others can in the fall (tenured faculty), and spring (non-tenured) which she hopes attracts young scientists considering accepting positions at Cal State East Bay.
“My hope is that over time, it will be used for recruitment in the College of Science so new faculty coming in can be told about the program and maybe even start working on a proposal before they get here,” Sieber said.
Vice President of University Advancement Bill Johnson said Sieber’s gift to Cal State East Bay is a testament to her dedication to creating an opportunity for students and faculty.
“Joan is ensuring that our students are better prepared for their careers, while also providing key pathways for new faculty at the College of Science to have resources to advance their work,” Johnson said. “The university is very grateful for her partnership in such an important area.”
Beyond the Science
She also thinks the program will create opportunities for students not only to gain valuable research skills but the soft skills required to excel in the workplace through partnerships with industry experts. These include things such as appropriate work behavior, realistic expectations about pay and duties, and navigating company politics.
For example, Sieber said she once had a student who expected to get a job making more than $100,000 annually right out of school because the student felt they’d worked hard in school and had student loans to pay off. Others have balked at being asked to photocopy materials “because that is work for secretaries.”
“The thing people need to understand is that when they get out of college, they need to have good work habits and learn what are appropriate expectations to have of the industry,” Sieber said. “Yes, they’ve gained a lot of knowledge, but they don’t necessarily know a lot about the company they’re going to work for. My ideal is that these grants would involve collaboration with local industry where someone from Cal State East Bay would be able to come into that company, meet and work with the collaborators and maybe even eventually be employed there.”
Once the research program is off and running this fall, Sieber hopes other donors will step up and help expand the grants. She argues that people don’t have to be wealthy or donate a large sum to make a difference and the intrinsic payoff is exciting and rewarding.
“I am not wealthy,” Sieber said. “As a faculty member, I was able to learn how to invest and now to give back to the university, and a contribution such as this can do a lot to shape a particular department and the future of Cal State East Bay science students.”