Dollars divided for development

The University of Miami capitalized on the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) by obtaining over $90 million in grants that will help spur projects such as medical research, as well as building annexes all throughout the institution.

President Barack Obama urged Congress to pass the ARRA last year as a direct response to the economic crisis, signing the bill into law on Feb. 13, 2009. The government has since distributed nearly $200 billion to recipients, with almost twice that number in funds still available.

Handling the funds

In an effort to capitalize on the political initiative, senior leadership at the university created the “Stimulus Working Group” comprised of a conglomeration of deans, administrators and other employees for the purpose of taking advantage of every possible grant applicable to schools and researchers.

So far, the university has submitted 513 proposals requesting roughly $440 million and 116 proposals have been awarded. The grant money has supported 286 current employees while creating and retaining roughly another 110 jobs.

Medical, Education and other schools benefit from stimulus

A grant of $12 million, funded by the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), will assist a coalition led by Dr. Lisa Metsch of the Miller School of Medicine and members of the San Francisco Department of Public Health in determining if rapid HIV testing should be accompanied by counseling.

Those leading the study wish to determine whether linking counseling to every HIV test, even for those who test HIV negative, will have a positive impact on reducing dangerous behaviors and their correlated diseases.

Evaluators will look at information ranging from the incidence of sexually-transmitted infections to cost-effectiveness of the counseling, using the results to determine future policy.

“We try to meet the person where they are at,” Metsch said. “In this very brief counseling, we are able to make goals ranging from condom use and injection use, to reducing the number of sexual partners.”

The School of Education also hopes to capitalize on the ARRA’s generosity. After applying for the U.S. Department of Education’s “Investing in Innovation Fund,” they hope to receive $30 million across five years to support and develop the studies of School of Education researchers Okhee Lee, Walter Secada and Randall Penfield.

Lee, Secada and Penfield developed a hands-on science curriculum called P-SELL, “Promoting Science among English Language Learners,” which provides language support for English learners and teaches them to use mathematics as a scientific tool.

Students exposed to the curriculum during various studies have outperformed other students at comparable schools in science, math and writing, resulting in P-SELL gaining the attention of public school officials around Florida.

“Some superintendents in Lee County were very happy because we would be bringing them a proven curriculum that they could use without having to reinvent the wheel,” said Marsha Talianoff, assistant dean of development for the School of Education.

The School of Education hopes to partner with Lee, Orange and Palm Beach County public schools to conduct the randomized experiment compromising roughly 100,000 students enrolled in the third, fourth and fifth grades.

“If the United States wishes to improve its international standing on science and the knowledge economy, it’s imperative to invest early in elementary school children,” said Isaac Prilleltensky, dean of the School of Education. “The stimulus grant would enable the expansion of the program from Miami-Dade County to several school districts across the state, thus disseminating knowledge of proven methods that work.”

Grants assist in construction

One grant from the NIH, totaling $15 million, will assist the university in adding a neuroscience and health annex to the Cox Science Center which will include a human functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) laboratory.

The state of the art equipment will allow scientists and physicians to coordinate when diagnosing and treating multiple neurological diseases.

In addition to the fMRI lab, the funding will also allow more space in Cox for psychology classes that currently use rooms in Flipse Building next to the Ponce De Leon parking garage.

“Everyone is extremely excited about that, and it’s a fantastic opportunity for the university and the community” said Jennifer McCafferty-Cepero, the assistant dean of research for the Miller School of Medicine.

Daniel Osiason may be contacted at