Penn State invests $2 million to support strategic priorities

Editor's note: This story has been updated with two additional grants awarded in December 2018.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Through an innovative new funding process, Penn State is investing $2 million in its top strategic priorities, while simultaneously advancing the vital and transformative work of its faculty, staff and students across the University.

Twelve seed grants have been awarded to pilot programs that support Penn State’s 2016-2020 Strategic Plan and its thematic priorities, which include transforming education, enhancing health, stewarding our planet’s resources, advancing the arts and humanities, and driving digital innovation. The funded projects range from the collection, security and management of big health data; to the global development of energy-efficient buildings; to nurturing employment pathways and expanding sustainable and socially responsible food production in Pennsylvania.

Faculty, staff and students from across the University submitted proposals for consideration, seeking grants ranging from $50,000 to $250,000. The first cohort of funded initiatives received awards totaling approximately $2 million.

“We titled the University-wide strategic plan ‘Our Commitment to Impact’ because implementation of it will engender many positive impacts throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and beyond,” said Nick Jones, executive vice president and provost of the University. “We purposely solicited proposals from people throughout Penn State to get a variety of exciting ideas for pilot projects, and the response was extraordinary. This approach set us apart from how many other universities conduct similar efforts and showed how anyone at the University can contribute meaningfully to our pursuit of excellence in teaching, research and service.”

For example, one funded proposal involves providing Penn State leadership and expertise to improve building efficiency on a global scale, which supports the University strategic plan’s priority regarding stewardship of Earth’s resources.

Another approved initiative will help to grow Penn State’s thriving Sustainable Food Systems Program, which focuses on sustainable and socially responsible food production. The grant will support expansion of the program to Penn State’s Commonwealth Campuses and add opportunities for engaged scholarship, including the potential for new student farms at the campuses, in support of the plan’s priority to transform education.

“The funded projects in this cohort exemplify the spirit and substance of our strategic efforts to keep Penn State at the forefront of innovation as a world-class university,” said Betty Harper, associate vice provost for planning and institutional research. “They reflect the University’s strengths in multidisciplinary research and impactful collaboration across units.”

The recently approved initiatives are listed below, and more information about the proposals and their authors is available at

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE): Global Consortium for High Performance Buildings, mentioned above and in support of stewarding our planet’s resources.

Growing Food, Leaders and Community: Expanding Sustainable Food Systems Learning across Commonwealth Campuses, mentioned above and in support of transforming education.

Digital Collaboratory for Precision Health Research, focusing on the collection, security and management of big health data, in support of driving digital innovation.

The Public Humanities Initiative, focused on developing an ongoing, public conversation on the fundamental ideas and questions of our time, in support of advancing the arts and humanities.

Digital Innovation through Immersive Technologies: Establishing New Paradigms for Environmental Decision Support, focused on the advancement of technologies ranging from augmented reality to mixed and virtual reality, in support of driving digital innovation.

— Integrated Data Systems Solutions for Health Equity, focused on accessing and linking health and health care data collected by public agencies at the state level, to advance and guide public policy and investments in the Commonwealth, in support of enhancing health.

— On Campus Ambulatory Intensive Care (AIC) to Improve Health and Wellness of Penn State Employees and Adult Beneficiaries with Chronic Illnesses, a partnership focused on integrative, intensive health care management supporting overweight or obese employees and adult beneficiaries at high risk for chronic disease, in support of advancing health.

— Energy University Partnership to Support the Commonwealth’s Oil and Gas Strategy, focused on research, development, byproduct utilization, and educated workforce needs in support of the new Shell Pennsylvania Chemical’s ethane-to-ethylene cracker plant near Penn State Beaver, in support of stewarding our planet’s resources. The initiative will establish Penn State and Penn State Erie, The Behrend College as the central point for the efforts related to the Erie region and statewide for byproduct utilization outreach efforts.

— Ecology and Design, focused on the creation of a Penn State Center for Ecology and Design (E+D), that will address the need to fuse ecology and design in built works, and establish the University as a leader in E+D innovation and education, in support of stewarding our planet’s resources.

— Penn State Lehigh Valley LaunchBox and Retail Services and Sales Industry Collaborative to Support Employment Pathways, a partnership focused on developing an innovative educational program providing students interested in the retail and sales industry with an integrative, industry-informed, core competencies curriculum, in support of transforming education.

Enhancing Interdisciplinary and Collaborative Cancer Research Activity Across Penn State Campuses, to develop and implement a postdoctoral scholars program for the Penn State Cancer Institute members at University Park, Hershey, and other University campuses.

A University-wide Structured Approach to Organizational Processes, to develop, implement and institutionalize a University-wide strategy to improve processes and manage change, whether expansive or incremental.

The funding for strategic initiatives comes from a variety of sources, among them unit investments; University funds, including strategic reallocations; grants; and philanthropy — including support from the University’s Capital Campaign, "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence."

The next deadline to submit proposals is Jan. 31; the second round of funded initiatives will be announced in mid-May. For more information about the strategic plan funding model and seed grant process, including proposal and submission guidelines, timeline and review process, visit Questions about seed grants and other components of the strategic plan implementation process should be sent to [email protected].