As of September 2013, Macalester faculty members hold 20 grants from the National Science Foundation, totaling $4.5 million. On a per-capita basis, that places Macalester number one among 40 peer liberal arts and sciences colleges nationally for the second time in three years.
“That we rank first in NSF grants per capita is a testament to the quality and vibrancy of the research program here at Macalester,” said President Brian Rosenberg. “It’s remarkable that a college our size has so many productive faculty engaged in research.”
Macalester has 174 full-time faculty, which translates to 11.5 grants per 100 faculty members. That compares to 6.6 grants per 100 faculty members at Williams College and 7.1 per 100 at Carleton College, for example.
Besides supporting research and equipment, a key benefit of Macalester’s research programs is to give undergraduate students research opportunities at a level that is often reserved for graduate students at large research universities.
For example, computer science professor Elizabeth Shoop has a $235,923 grant to develop a web-based modular approach for incorporating parallel computing into computer science curricula, so that CS students are prepared for the multi-core, cloud-computing environment into which they will graduate.
Ivana Marincic ’15 (Vrbovec, Croatia) is one of the student researchers who worked with Shoop this summer and later presented at a parallel computing workshop for students and faculty in New Mexico. “Parallel computing is hard to understand because the brain doesn’t work in parallel; there’s so much more to manage,” says Marincic, who found it interesting to switch roles.
"I had never before had to talk about my code with a large group. It meant shifting gears from learning to teaching, thinking about how to set up code to make it more intuitive. It’s not just an assignment for class; it’s going to be online for others to use, so it matters much more.”
Rosenberg attributes the strong rank to a combination of an active cohort of both active, younger faculty as well as more senior faculty members who consistently receive NSF support and share their proposals with colleagues.
In addition to Shoop’s grant, examples of NSF grant-funded research at Macalester include work to investigate microfossils from Montana bone beds, the use of tagging in organizing information, cognitive processing through eye-tracking, and detection and prevention of avian influenza.