January 2004 Q & A

Top University of Hawaii researchers in their own words

January, 2004


What has lead to the dramatic increases in federal funding and other extramural funding at the University of Hawaii?

They are due to extremely competent individual faculty members. The high-quality faculty reflects excellent hiring practices by the many deans, directors and chairs of the very productive units. Startup packages have been small compared to other research universities, but they have been adequate. Faculty hiring has been strategically sound and our mentoring of new faculty is improving.

What does UH need to do to attract even more funding?

UH needs to vastly improve its research infrastructure in order to assist our already successful faculty investigators. We also need to include more faculty members in the research activities of UH, either through additional faculty hires or doing a better job of drawing upon the talents of faculty at our four-year colleges and community colleges.

Aside from money for grants and overhead coming in, what benefits does this funding provide to UH and to the state economy as a whole?

The benefit to UH, other than the flow of money, is the improved level of scholarship. That impacts each resident of the state by improving the educational experience of the students who study at UH. Another benefit to the state is that UH is the largest technology-related organization in Hawaii, an organization that would like to improve the business climate for all of our local companies through work-force development and partnering. Remember that part of the UH mission is to educate, train and retain our youth, and to do that, UH must become an engine for state economic development in general.

What do you think are some realistic future goals for UH, with regard to your research funding?

Two years ago, a distinguished committee of UH faculty and administrators, called the Raleigh Committee, believed that a growth rate of 6 percent to 7 percent per year was sustainable if we repaired our research support infrastructure. Since that time, we have been growing faster than 7 percent, but how long we can maintain a growth rate in excess of 7 percent will depend on our investment in our faculty, staff, facilities and support structure. Without a significant reinvestment, the growth phase could easily stall.

What scientific areas of research do you believe we should target for funding development and higher levels of grant activity?

Our decentralized structure and flat budgets, particularly at UH Manoa, make targeting specific areas for funding development difficult. The Manoa Chancellor, Peter Englert, is encouraging interdisciplinary efforts, where faculty from several research areas team to address very complex problems. If successful, this approach will lead to larger grants and contracts.


What has been the impact of federal funding on the Cancer Research Center?

The Cancer Research Center receives 90 percent of its funding in the form of peer-reviewed federal grants and contracts. Because the center’s faculty has been successful in competing for these grants, the center has experienced significant growth over the past decade.

What types of key projects has it funded?

Many key projects. The Cancer Center Support Grant provides support for the Cancer Research Center’s infrastructure. The Multiethnic Cohort Study is the world’s largest population study to learn why some people develop cancer and others don’t. Another grant has provided us the funding to include Hawaii’s multiethnic minority population in a national cooperative cancer’s study group clinical trials. The Guam Partnership Grant will facilitate the training of Guam and Pacific Island cancer researchers at the University of Guam, who will be able to conduct joint research projects with Cancer Research Center faculty. The grant will also support Ph.D.-level training of University of Guam graduates at the Cancer Research Center. Those are just some of the programs funded.

How have these projects also benefited the local community – either economically, scientifically or medically?

These projects have infused $30 million per year into the local economy and have created jobs and purchased the services of local businesses pertinent to the needs of the projects. Scientifically and medically, these projects have provided access for local patients to participate in state-of-the-art clinical trials available only through a national cooperative cancer network. These projects have also provided the local community access to the most current and accurate cancer information from the National Cancer Institute and have provided educational opportunities to Hawaii’s health care professionals with regard to the most current cancer therapies.

How is the funding environment right now? Is it more or less competitive?

The current funding environment continues to be extremely competitive. However, cancer is a major disease entity in the U.S., as the second leading cause of death among Americans. The NCI is the largest institute under the National Institutes of Health and receives an annual budget of $4.7 billion. Therefore, one in every four research dollars goes to cancer.

Cancer is a hot research topic these days. What specific advantages do you have at CRCH over other institutions around the country?

In all the U.S., Hawaii possesses perhaps the most diverse multiethnic population mix. Because of this unique feature, we have been able to observe the different rates of cancers among our ethnic groups in a natural-life science laboratory, in which we can study and learn about the different causes of cancer, such as genes, diet and other environmental factors.


What direct impact does federal funding have on the CTAHR?

When I arrived at the start of 2001, our general fund base was reduced by 25 percent or $5 million, compared to 1995. Our faculty numbers were down by 37 positions and over 60 support positions. Thus, the first thing we had to do in 2000 was to hire new faculty to replenish our intellectual capital. In order to do this, we are using most of our state funds for faculty salaries, and, depending on grants and contracts to provide the operating funds to do our research, outreach and education programs. Basically, we tell our faculty that we will provide your salary and you must generate your operating funds through grants and contacts. This strategy has worked in that we have increased our grants and contracts by two-and-one-half times over the past five years, and over 41 percent over the past year. These additional funds have allowed us to more effectively serve our many stakeholders.

How does the federal funding impact or benefit the community? Any examples?

Last year, the college generated $17.6 million in grants and contracts. This results in approximately $39 million in business sales. More importantly, our research, outreach and educational programs benefit the community by helping agribusinesses be more successful, creating more sustainable environments and strengthening families and communities.

What are the types of grant-funded programs the CTAHR has added during your tenure? Any of which you are especially proud?

We have placed increased emphasis on “healthy living in the Pacific” focusing on issues related to food-nutrition-health interactions; our “Tropical and Subtropical Agricultural Research” program continues to grow, especially in the area of invasive species; our cooperative programs, with national and state departments of agriculture on fruit-fly suppression, has been very successful; our increasing engagement in international projects through the Agency for International Development; and our project to establish a statewide agribusiness incubator program are some of the initiatives that I feel are helping the many, varied stakeholders we serve.


What impact do federal dollars have on the medical school?

These dollars support mainly faculty and staff salaries, whose jobs would not have been possible without this funding. The other portion of the money goes for supplies and equipment for research and education. The impacts that these dollars have on the medical school are multiple. We can expand our research and educational programs according to our strategic plan without state funding. We can recruit new faculty, who bring new skills and interests, and develop new academic programs. For example, Haya Rubin is joining us from Johns Hopkins Medical School to develop a program in healthcare quality. She has a million-dollar endowed chair funded by HMSA.

Of which programs at the medical school are you particularly proud?

We are very proud of the creation of the new department of Native Hawaiian Health. The funding is coming from The Queen’s Health System and [National Institutes of Health], jointly. It fills a great need here in the state. Marjorie Mau is the department chair, and she has an additional $5.3 million dollars to develop educational programs for diabetes in the Native Hawaiian community. And, of course, Dr. Yanagimachi has one of the leading clone centers in the world.

Why is the new campus so important?

The new medical school campus at Kakaako will be instrumental in nurturing the biotechnology industry for the state. This industry is clustered around where the research is being done. That is why the small biotech companies are in San Diego, San Francisco, Boston, New Haven, Baltimore and Seattle. We have the ingredients coming together right now, with the new campus and available surrounding land. There is interest in building leased research space (laboratories, etc.), which is necessary for the development of a real biotech industry here.


What direct impact does federal funding have on SOEST?

Federal funding allows us to not only fund research and our research facilities, but also to sponsor graduate students and even buy large and expensive equipment. This type of funding makes the university more competitive.

How does the funding impact or benefit the community? Can you give me any examples?

Many researchers provide services to the state. For example, Steve Martel specializes in structural geology, and often consults with the state concerning landslides and slope stability. Gerard Fryer is an associate geophysicist in SOEST, and is the tsunami adviser to Hawaii State Civil Defense. Chip Fletcher leads the coastal geology group in SOEST, and consults with the state on coastal erosion. Pat Caldwell does the Oahu surf forecast for the National Weather Service Forecast office, one of the most trusted surf forecasts for Oahu. Tom Schroeder is the chair of the meteorology department, as well as the director of the Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, and consults with the state about hurricane research. Pao-Shin Chu is the state climatologist, and is a professor in the meteorology department.

What economic impact does rising levels of competitive grant funding to the university from the federal government have on the state as a whole?

The rising benefits mean increased purchasing levels and therefore sales-tax income to the state. The higher level of grants funds research centers that rely on locally provided services, such as laboratory analyses. It also encourages research service companies to relocate to Hawaii, providing jobs for a skilled work force. And some scientists start up locally operated high-tech companies based on their expertise gained from SOEST.

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