The term research, to many, probably conjures images of lab coats and microscopes, people secretly toiling in work we couldn’t begin to understand. The past few years, Oklahoma State University has made a concerted effort to inform a larger audience of its research’s practical applications, about the men and women behind the research and extending its outreach as part of the university’s land grant mission.
OSU Research, in turn, has received new acclaim for its program. The Carnegie Classifications of Institutions has included Oklahoma State University in its top tier for research universities. It’s a feather in the cap for the work being done throughout OSU, but could also be a useful tool in recruiting, according to OSU Vice President for Research Kenneth Sewell.
Sewell joined the OSU administration in 2015, the reclassification only comes up every few years, so it’s a first for his program. Sewell said the rankings rely on a lot of different metrics, not all of them known to the institutions being ranked.
“Primarily, its the breadth of the research programs and how much money gets invested and flows through the research enterprise,” he said. “There’s a high degree of variability from the smaller universities to the larger universities, so they try to take into account how big a university you are so it doesn’t just favor the behemoth universities. But, it turns out, that the behemoth universities tend to be strong research universities. We would be considered a moderate size university in the scheme of public universities. To be a moderate size university and in that top tier is a pretty good representation of how seriously we take the research aspect of our mission.”
Sewell believes the growth of OSU’s research, even during some tough financial times, and streamlined reporting processes has helped the university achieve this status. Being able to “reflect to the world what OSU does,” will have the added effect of a world becoming more interested in Oklahoma State.
“It’s primarily, it’s recruiting. It’s reputation,” Sewell said. “The president hears about these things the minute they come out. The alumni pay attention to it. I think about recruiting top faculty, and they help us recruit top students and those faculty do more great research and their great students not only participate in that research, but then they go out and tell the world about OSU. I really think that’s the big bang for the buck. You know that are alumni are keeping an eye out, and every time a new ranking comes out they look and see where OSU is. It makes them proud and they stay more engaged, perhaps, maybe write another check, perhaps. It think does help with that donor and alumni relations because I think it adds value to their degree. To know that the university they’re at is considered in the same league with Stanford, MIT, Johns Hopkins – we’re not in the same quantitative level, but we’re in the same tier of universities and I think that generates a lot of pride.”
Sewell could highlight any number of active OSU researches making an impact on the planet, and he does, but he’s also excited about concrete. Concrete. There’s a reason for that.
“We’ve got some really top people in various specific areas, and I can get excited about any one of those. We have one of the top concrete researches in the world. That sounds kind of odd, but this guy can actually get you excited about concrete, he really understands concrete but rather than just staying in the lab and doing his little thing he’s linked out to researches that are looking to design the 22nd Century transportation systems of the United States and how his research can fit,” he said. “It’s that linking of the deep dive experiences these experts have to real world problems that really is exciting. We’ve got chemistry people that know how to get a little atom to go from one side of a membrane to another, but then they think, that could help with drug delivery and getting medicines to where they need to be in people’s bodies. They partner with people in other disciplines so that they make sure that research has a pathway to being impactful in people’s lives.”