Texas A&M: Texas A&M Program To Give $100K In Combined Grants To Encourage Innovation

Innovation[X], a program designed to encourage multidisciplinary collaboration at Texas A&M University, provides grants to research teams working to address complex problems. This year, the program is continuing to stimulate team-based research by funding at least five projects.

“The Innovation[X] program was initially created at the School of Innovation here at Texas A&M,” LAUNCH Assistant Director Emily Finbow said. “Innovation[X] moved over to LAUNCH with me last year, along with the MaroonBase program.”

Since the program’s pilot year in 2019, $620,000 in research grants have been awarded. The application process starts in March each year with faculty proposals that address a problem. The proposal encourages a team-based approach, and teams must consist of two faculty members from different colleges and 10-15 students, six of whom must be undergraduate students.

“Some problems addressed by teams are very local…some focus on issues related to our state, and then we have projects that deal with national or worldwide issues like economic and psychological impact of pandemics on communities here and abroad,” Finbow said.

$20,000 grants are awarded to selected projects, and the number of grants awarded varies each year. After the project selection, the student application window opens. Students can apply for three projects but can only be a member of one team if selected. Undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and post-doctoral students are eligible to apply.

“Students can benefit from Innovation[X] through some traditional ways like class credit, research experience, stipends, hourly wages, potential for their experience to count as an internship and other ways that are more interpersonal,” Finbow said. “They get the chance to work on a team with students and faculty they likely might not have met otherwise.”

Student Experience

Supply chain management major Jackson Bolick ’23 experienced the multidisciplinary connection first-hand by working as a student researcher for the Innovation[X] project “Farmers Fight! Creating Solutions for Human-Wildlife Conflict in Botswana.”

Bolick grew up with a desire to be involved in international development, but he didn’t know where to start. At the beginning of his sophomore year, he received a mass email from Innovation[X] and had the opportunity to apply for the Botswana-focused research project to make his career goal a reality.

“What I’m interested in doing with my life is solving international problems, going abroad and bringing new perspectives to problems,” Bolick said. “This perfectly fit into that mold. It was something I was very drawn towards.”

Bolick worked with other undergraduate students, graduate students and doctoral candidates under Research Scientist Leslie Ruyle, who has a Ph.D. in ecology. The team worked with Cheetah Conservation Botswana to understand contact between humans and wildlife to help farmers protect their livestock from predators.

“There’s a lot of conflict between ranchers and wild predators, like lions and cheetahs, that will attack livestock,” Bolick said. “Our job was to come up with innovative tech solutions as part of a multidisciplinary team to help mitigate this conflict.”

Bolick’s team proposed placing long-range GPS tracking ear tags on the livestock. After facing delays due to Covid-19, Bolick and two other team members traveled to Botswana to see if their idea applied to the real-life situation.

“We worked with Cheetah Conservation Botswana, and we learned a lot more of what the reality is over there for animals as much as for ranchers,” Bolick said. “We decided that the best way to do this would be to tag pregnant cows, find them when they give birth and then figure out ways to bring in these calves from vulnerable situations.”

Over the next year, Bolick and other team members will continue working with Cheetah Conservation Botswana to study the effectiveness of the GPS tags. Bolick, who said he is glad to still be involved in the research, recommends that other students apply for Innovation[X] if it’s something they find interesting.

“I really noticed how being on a multidisciplinary team, as long as you can work well, you can get so much more done, and you can create more value,” Bolick said. “It’s given me a lot more direction for my career in the future, and it has also helped me make contacts and network. It’s been an extremely valuable experience.”

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