Tuskegee University’s Collaborations with CBirC Expand Under NSF-CREST Award

Achievement date: 

After more than two years of mutual faculty visits and student engagements in its research experience for undergraduates (REU) program, the research partnership between Tuskegee University and the NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC) at Iowa State University (ISU) has matured to active research collaborations at the University education level. An NSF Centers for Research Excellence in Science and Technology (CREST) supplemental award has allowed Tuskegee to expand the scope of a research project through its connection with CBiRC, further enabling a CBiRC postdoctoral student to lead a training workshop on newly acquired nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy equipment for Tuskegee’s graduate and undergraduate students.


A great deal of sensitivity is required when a majority-serving institution partners with a minority-serving institution, particularly if it is primarily done for the purpose of creating feeder streams for the majority-serving institution. The CBiRC model seeks to create meaningful CBiRC-related research opportunities at the minority institution itself, with a focus on increasing graduate study among the students at Tuskegee, even if they do not go on to attend a CBiRC-affiliated institution. These efforts include support for Tuskegee to establish a Ph.D. program in chemistry, as well as creating a Biorenewables Center, which will retain strong ties to CBiRC.


In order to address the low numbers of underrepresented minorities (URM) at the graduate and faculty levels in chemistry, CBiRC is leading a transformative diversity effort to create a more sustainable research partnership with the historically black college and university (HBCU), Tuskegee University. While ISU has a historical connection with Tuskegee University through Dr. G. W. Carver, the two institutions have not been able to build from this connection. However, because CBiRC’s strategy of using plant-based carbon to make chemicals is fundamentally an offspring of Dr. Carver’s work on value-added processing, the Center is very well positioned to serve as a bridge across the two institutions.

Through the use of peer-to-peer faculty connections, CBiRC and Tuskegee University have now established ties across research and educational activities that are being further developed. For the past two years, at least two Tuskegee undergraduates participated in the CBiRC REU program, with CBiRC providing additional support for research during the school year. As this research continues under the CREST award, further insights will be gained about how best to enable future collaborations among Tuskegee and CBirC-affiliated universities as well as about the needs and interests of students interested in the emerging Tuskegee Ph.D. track in chemistry.