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Supporting World-Class Research

research during covid

Dr. Daniel L. Noneaker

Daniel L. Noneaker began serving as the associate dean for research in the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences in mid-March, just as COVID-19 dramatically changed how researchers conduct their work.

It’s a challenge he has embraced.

Noneaker has helped faculty investigators safely continue their research, taking measures to maintain social distancing and observing safety protocols, such as wearing masks. He has also supported faculty members who have new ideas for solving the engineering and scientific challenges presented by COVID-19.

“At last count, faculty in our college have submitted about 40 funding proposals for research projects based on ideas they have to address one aspect or another of COVID-19,” Noneaker said in a July interview. “That runs the gamut from testing potentially ill people for COVID-19 to clinical treatment of individuals to epidemiological data tracking. There has been a burst of creativity from researchers motivated by the desire to help see our fellow citizens, our society, and the world through this crisis.”

Noneaker is charged with supporting the college’s research enterprise, which topped $50 million in expenditures in fiscal year 2019 and accounts for 48% of Clemson University’s total. The college plays a crucial role in the University’s R1 designation for “very high research activity” it has received from The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.

The college’s faculty and students conduct a wide range of research but have demonstrated particular strength in the areas of advanced manufacturing, advanced materials, artificial intelligence, and big data, energy systems, health innovation, and sustainable and environmentally conscious systems. A special emphasis is placed on translational research that nudges new techniques and technologies out of the lab and into the real world.

Noneaker himself is a seasoned researcher and administrator. He joined Clemson in 1993 as an assistant professor and rose through the ranks to become chair of the Holcombe Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, serving in that position from 2014 until he took the associate dean job.

Noneaker sat down with IDEAS in mid-July to brief the magazine on his new duties, what he is doing to ensure equity and inclusion for researchers, and how researchers are responding to COVID-19.

Would you give us an overview of what your office does?

There are three primary components. One is research administration. We need a fairly sophisticated technical infrastructure and staff skill set to operate the back-office functions that come with attaining and managing research grants. We’re fortunate in our college in that we have outstanding personnel as well as mature organizational structures and processes.

Second, we have an education role, primarily for faculty members in their role as investigators on research projects. When faculty members become principal investigators, they inherit a whole range of responsibilities from both a legal and managerial standpoint depending on the original source of the funds, often the federal government.

Third, in our business development function, we work on behalf of faculty in our college to help the college and individual faculty members identify opportunities for externally funded research and to understand how what is being sought by funding agencies can match with the skill sets and interests of faculty members.

We’re seeing a renewed interest in equity and inclusion in the wake of the death of George Floyd. What is your office’s response?

The college leadership maintains an open door to discuss any circumstance or environment that impedes the opportunity for the professional success of one of our faculty, staff, or students or detracts from their acceptance as an integral part of the CECAS family. We take this seriously, and we want to learn so we can address the situation.

At the faculty level, there are two places we can make the greatest impact in terms of equity and inclusion. First, we can ensure that we recruit heavily among prospective faculty members across all populations of candidates. Second, we can ensure we have an environment institutionally and in the college that ensures faculty members of all backgrounds and interests feel that they are an integral part of the Clemson community and feel they are fully supported and encouraged and given the opportunities to develop and progress toward their career goals.

At the graduate student level, the best opportunity is to identify and ensure that we have resources to provide funded graduate assistantship opportunities for a diverse pool of students in engineering, computing and applied sciences. That’s one side of the equation. The other is the recruiting aspect. That means recruiting from both within our own undergraduate population but also doing the heavy lift of reaching out to other institutions, including institutions that may have a high proportion of underrepresented populations.

COVID-19 has posed some unique challenges for international students and faculty members. What message would you have for them?

Let me start by saying to our colleagues who are internationals, who are faculty members or graduate students in the college — we value you very deeply as colleagues and as members of our community. We understand this is a time of heightened stress for many of you, and we are committed to making decisions and providing the support that serves your best interest in the same way that we do for individuals who are U.S. citizens and permanent residents. You are an integral part of our community, and we are much better as a community for what you bring to Clemson and the college.

With respect to travel abilities, we have to adhere to legal restrictions. Beyond that, we will not ask an individual to engage in travel that puts them at risk or where they feel like they are being put at risk. We will continue to monitor the legal situation and practical constraints on travel to identify when and how it is safe and allowable for individuals to travel.

Dr. Daniel NoneakerDaniel Noneaker, Ph.D.
Associate Dean for Research