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Department of Navy's HBCU/MI Faculty Start-up Program in Materials

This program enhances infrastructure for historically black colleges and universities and minority institutions (HBCU/MIs) by providing start-up funding for new, untenured faculty members whose teaching and research impact Department of Defense (DoD) needs in materials science/engineering. Faculty in chemistry, chemical engineering, physics, mathematics, computer science and materials science/engineering will be supported; some other disciplines will also be considered on a case-by-case basis. These funds are meant for strategic hires in materials science/ and engineering, not for faculty who have already been hired (refer to "Notes to Provosts and Deans" section below); accordingly, this program is to be used by provosts and deans exclusively as a recruiting tool.

One weakness of most HBCU/MIs is the relatively small start-up packages offered to new faculty. The intent of this program is to make minority institutions more competitive by providing funds that would entice talented researchers to the institution and help ensure they remain there by fast-tracking their research programs.

Each grant ($200,000 for doctoral/master's institutions; $100,000 for primarily undergraduate institutions) can be spent over a two year time period. This is not a replacement for startup; instead, this must be added to a standard startup package that would otherwise be provided to a new faculty member. The funds can be used for equipment; supplies; services; travel; student support including high school students, undergraduate/graduate students, technicians and post-doctoral research associates; summer salary; and, on a limited basis, laboratory renovation. It should not be used as a buy-out from teaching; it is assumed that the untenured, new faculty will be provided with a reduced teaching load during the first or second academic year.

How to Submit

Proposals should be written and submitted through by the college provost and list a dean as a co-principle investigator (co-PI); additional co-PIs could be department chairs or the chair of the faculty search committee. The format of the proposal is free-form; meaning applicants need to convince the Office of Naval Research (ONR) that these funds will be used to enhance faculty research and recruiting. The length of the proposal should not exceed 12 pages excluding appendices and attachments. At a minimum, the proposal should include these sections:

  1. Introduction: This should provide background information about the institution, its strengths and weaknesses and what the institution’s vision is for the near and remote future.
  2. Materials science and engineering detail: This section should delineate existing programs impacting materials science and engineering, what is missing from your portfolio, and the expertise you seek in a new faculty member to achieve your future goals. This should be the main part of the proposal. Because few HBCU/MIs have stand-alone materials science/engineering departments, research from chemistry, physics, mathematics, computer science and similar departments can be included here. In this section clearly define the research competence you seek in a new faculty member and how that aligns with modern materials science/engineering.
  3. Budget: The budget is fixed at $200,000 (doctoral) and $100,000 (primarily undergraduate institutions) and should be earmarked for a new, tenure-track faculty member. We are not expecting a 1:1 match of resources but we do want to know how much your institution will designate for faculty start-up.
  4. STEM Evaluation Criteria: This DoN HBCU/MI initiative is outside the scope of what is normally done in the DoD; we have no legal authority to fund this program through the normal Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) posted annually by ONR. However, this DoN HBCU/MI initiative does fit under the STEM-FOA that is announced annually and in that regard it needs to fulfill the evaluation criteria described in that document. To account for that, include a short section in the proposal that describes how your project meets the following evaluation criteria:
    • Alignment with the Department of Navy mission including naval partnerships, community relationships and naval needs.
    • Scientific or engineering technical merit, accounting for applicant’s awareness of the state of the art and understanding of the scope of the problem; technical focus area and anticipated impact on participants.
    • Program viability during and after the period of performance, accounting for: (i) Applicant’s capabilities, related experience, facilities and techniques; (ii) Number of participants; (iii) Management approach; (iv) Cost of the program; (v) Metrics and measures of effectiveness; (vi) Sustainment plans after period of performance.
    • Innovation, including the degree of innovation and significance of the technical approach.
    • Diversity of participants, including outreach to underserved/underrepresented communities and inclusion of underserved/underrepresented individuals.

When to submit:

The FY 2022 submission window opens Oct. 1, 2021 and closes Jan. 30, 2022. Notification of final decisions will be made by March 15, 2022 and funds will be made available by Aug. 1, 2022. Submission at any time between October and January is allowed. When submitting through, be sure to reference the latest Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) for the Office of Naval Research (ONR) Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Program (Solicitation N00014-21-S-F005).

Notes to Provosts and Deans

  1. These funds are meant for strategic hires in materials science and engineering. Most institutions, however, lack stand-alone materials science/engineering schools or departments. Because components of materials science are common in other departments like chemistry, physics, computer science and mathematics, faculty hires in those disciplines are acceptable— but not in botany, geology, psychology or other such departments. Before preparing a proposal, we ask that you contact us to ensure the faculty you seek is within the domain of materials science/engineering. Also, be sure to explain how the person you would hire could impact DoD needs — that should be stated clearly in the proposal. Again, before you develop a proposal, contact us about this latter issue for clarification— we are here to help you.
  2. Before submitting a proposal through, we ask that you e-mail a PDF of the proposal to the DoD program manager when it’s about 90% complete. This allows the program manager to provide guidance about what to include in the proposal (that may be missing) and/or what unnecessary material to delete. We want to help you make the best case for a grant.
  3. If you are not ready to hire someone this year, let us know that and we will invite you to apply next year or the year thereafter. Do not create a position you don’t need/want just because the funds are available.
  4. This is a dual-use funding scheme. (i) It is to be used by you, the provost and dean, to attract new faculty who might otherwise not accept your offer because other institutions can offer more in terms of infrastructure resources — this funding scheme is a recruiting tool to help level the playing field. (ii) It is meant as a starter grant for a young scholar even though we do not know exactly what the recipient will do — this funding scheme should influence a new faculty at a critical point along their academic trajectory.
  5. We know that start-up packages at most HBCU/MIs are not as competitive as they ought to be. The Start-up Program in Materials is an experimental funding mechanism. We want to explore other ways of delivering federally mandated HBCU/MI funds in lieu of the more common approach of asking faculty to apply as PIs for research funding. Accordingly, there is a tacit agreement: If you accept the funds, you will help us in our assessment of the test program.

It is difficult to assess this program, especially the concept of being able to recruit more effectively, so we will not attempt to do that. Instead we will focus on the new faculty member. If we argue that start-up packages are important, those new faculty with larger startup packages in a given department should be more successful than those with smaller or no startup in that department.

Success is multifaceted, but to us, it means that recipients of this grant will achieve tenure at a higher rate than those who do not have such start-up resources. This outcome is measurable, but over a long time period. There are also short-term measures of success: The PI will be more likely to get other grants because he/she will have had funds to do some exploratory work and have preliminary results upon which many National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, and National Institutes of Health proposals are built; the PI will have the time to write a more compelling proposal and can be more selective about where to submit proposals instead of shot-gunning them to multiple agencies in a panic; the PI can quickly build a research team on campus and create a nurturing environment for students (who begat students) more quickly than professors who do not have such resources. All of this, and other measures, should lead to a higher likelihood of giving tenure and retaining talented faculty at minority institutions. If you have additional or alternative ways of doing assessments of this program, we ask that you help us; this program, albeit innovative, may not be meritorious in view of assessment data. We value your opinions and seek your input.


Williams, Reginald G. Dr.
Program Officer
Code 332