Photo of hands cupping a small seedling in dirt.
Published on: Apr 30, 2019

Initiatives that include studying the sustainable management of forests using Penn State forestland as a living laboratory; developing professional development and instructional tools for educators to teach difficult historical and social subjects; and a summer program designed to prepare students for success in four-year STEM degrees, are among 12 projects that Penn State is funding as part of the fourth round of seed grants for strategic initiative pilot programs.

Through an innovative strategic planning funding process, Penn State is investing more than $9 million in 43 pilot programs that support key, University-wide strategic priorities while simultaneously advancing the vital and transformative work of Penn State faculty, staff and students across the Commonwealth. The program awarded the first grants in fall 2017.

“Initiatives funded by strategic plan seed grants are actionable extensions of Penn State’s land-grant mission,” said Nick Jones, executive vice president and provost. “By advancing meaningful projects — from those seeking solutions to the substance-abuse crisis and stormwater runoff pollution, to others focused on resource sustainability and the ethical use of big data — this program supports institutional priorities and ultimately enables the University to make positive impacts worldwide.”

Jones hosted a Town Hall meeting on the subject last January, and shared additional information about the program in a Q&A.

To be eligible, the strategic initiatives must support Penn State’s 2016-2020 Strategic Plan and its thematic priorities: transforming education, enhancing health, stewarding our planet’s resources, advancing the arts and humanities, and driving digital innovation; or supporting elements. Programs should also incorporate the plan’s foundational areas.

Faculty, staff and students from across the University submitted proposals for consideration, seeking grants ranging from $50,000 to $250,000. Seed grants are recommended for funding after review by the University Strategic Plan Implementation Oversight Committee.

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

The following projects have been announced:

— Redesigning Modernities: Why Does the Modern World Look So Different In Various Places around the Globe?, in support of advancing the arts and humanities. Spanning curriculum and research collaborations, this project will connect current arts and humanities scholarship on globalization and modern cultures with courses offered University-wide. Faculty and students will collaborate in two summer workshops and follow-on activities, including journal publication, open-resource instructional materials, and curriculum development.

— A Systems Approach for Meeting Local and Global Food-Energy-Water Nexus Challenges, in support of stewarding our planet's resources. This initiative will unite the Penn State community in developing and testing systematic conceptual models of varied food-energy-water nexus challenges in select communities in Pennsylvania and Africa. The resulting frameworks and principles will be used to guide interventions that promote sustainable development and foster capacity building with local and global partners.

— The SoVA Studio for Sustainability and Social Action, in support of advancing the arts and humanities. The School of Visual Arts Studio for Sustainability and Social Action promotes the development of arts courses and minors through curriculum coordination; public art collaborations with communities throughout the Commonwealth; a nationally visible biennial symposium and art exhibition; and a lecture series and workshops by high profile artists.

— Establishing Penn State’s Leadership in Secure and Ethical Use of Health Behavior and Social Science Data, in support of driving digital innovation. In recognition of the rapid technological developments producing substantial amounts of sensitive data instrumental to Penn State’s research mission, this initiative will grow the University’s campus-wide digital infrastructure and international leadership in the secure and ethical use of high-value health/health behavior and social science data.

— The Penn State Network for STEM Inclusion and Innovation, in support of transforming education. Penn State Abington, Brandywine, Greater Allegheny and Lehigh Valley will implement the Network’s pilot STEM recruitment initiative, in which cohorts of prospective community college transfers will participate in a summer program designed to prepare students for success in four-year STEM degrees — the first program of its kind at Penn State.

— Embracing Diversity by Institutionalizing Equity Pedagogy and Culturally Sustaining Curricula, in support of transforming education. This initiative will create a “networked improvement community” of faculty affiliated with geographically dispersed research, teaching and learning centers to maximize their effectiveness in institutionalizing equity pedagogy and culturally sustaining curricula.

— Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Education Initiative, in support of constituent outreach and engagement. This initiative is a partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Education and organizations such as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation. It aims to develop and provide effective professional development and instructional tools for educators to teach difficult historical and social subjects.

— Growing Penn State Forests, in support of stewarding our planet's resources. Penn State owns more than 9,000 acres of forestlands that are largely unknown to faculty, staff and students. These forestlands are an expansive resource for training, research and sustainability. This project will use them as a living laboratory to showcase the University’s leadership in sustainable forest management.

— Penn State Cohort Study: to Promote High-Impact Research, Student Engagement, and Health, in support of enhancing health. Substance abuse is a leading national problem, with young adults at high risk. This project will develop a University resource that investigates biobehavioral underpinnings of student substance abuse across the Commonwealth. It will inform needed services, provide engaged learning opportunities, connect with Commonwealth faculty, and catalyze high-impact, interdisciplinary research.

— Restorative Justice Initiative (RJI): Prison Education Project, in support of transforming education. The Restorative Justice Initiative will enhance equitable access to higher education and transform undergraduate education at Penn State by providing access to college courses leading to degrees for the Commonwealth’s incarcerated residents; further integrating the study of justice into the curriculum; and providing transformative teaching and learning opportunities for faculty and students.

— The Midcareer Diverse Faculty Advancement Program and Humanities Collaborative, in support of infrastructure and support. This project will assist tenured associate professors from underrepresented groups, or whose research contributes to advancing diversity, to achieve the rank of full professor. Using strategic mentoring, the program will foster maximum productivity and increase the pool of diverse scholars at all levels.

— Greening our stormwater: using campuses as living labs for green stormwater infrastructure, in support of stewarding our planet's resources. Stormwater pollution and flooding are issues of growing global concern. Using Penn State’s multi-campus network, this project will create a living laboratory for green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) research, education and innovation. This will transform Penn State into a national GSI leader, building community capacity in the long term to implement cost-effective solutions.